On page three, we see Liz Moran working at a drawing board. She hasn’t been seen since chapter seven, when she and Mike Moran fought about Miracleman and her pregnancy. That same day, Mike Moran was shot by Cream. It’s now late that same night, and Mike hasn’t returned.
Liz is distracting herself with her art, but it’s not working. Moore does a good job at depicting her distracted thought patterns, in which stray thoughts bubble up and interrupt her.
We’ve talked before about how Moore uses the page as a unit, and that’s true here too. The page starts with Liz successfully distracting herself, before thoughts about Mike and her pregnancy come to dominate. In the end, as she’s feeling overwhelmed, she turns again to her art. Thematically, the page loops back to concern about the work in front of her, so that it begins as it ends. What’s between might be the most important to us as readers, but it is effectively a mental and emotional digression for Liz – a few moments of honest concern, if only with herself.
As Liz struggles with her artwork, she identifies what’s distracting her: that her husband hasn’t returned. She tries to content herself with the thought that he always comes home “eventually.”
It’s a startling passage because we likely haven’t thought of Liz, through everything that’s happened. We’re so conditioned, as super-hero readers, to focus on the obvious drama of Evelyn Cream holding our protagonist hostage, Miracleman dealing with the obstacles in the way of the bunker, and the threat of Big Ben that we probably never think about Mike’s poor wife, whom Mike hasn’t bothered to call.
It’s a cliché that men like their adventures and don’t think about their wives. There’s truth to this cliché, of course, and it underlies the male infatuation with adventure narratives, of which super-hero stories are a subset. Because we readers have likely forgotten Liz too, we’re also implicated in this traditional male forgetfulness – yet another way that Miracleman, in examining super-hero narratives, winds up exposing the problems inherent in many readers’ super-hero fetishes.
Within the narrative, however, we need to distinguish between Mike forgetting about Liz and Miracleman forgetting. Mike was shot before he had any reason to call Liz, and it’s understandable that he would transform into Miracleman, once freed by Cream. It’s really Miracleman who doesn’t care about Liz enough to make a phone call. We might rationalize that he didn’t think of doing so, given what he was learning from Cream. But Cream knows Miracleman’s alter ego already, so there was no reason that Miracleman wouldn’t ask if he could make a phone call. The truth is that Liz is a human being, part of the trappings of Mike Moran’s life. Miracleman is content to have sex with her, and he may well enjoy her company and have some feelings for her. But he’s a god, and Liz is beneath him. It doesn’t occur to him to worry about her waiting for her husband to return.
We can forgive ourselves, as readers, for not thinking of Liz. She’s a part of the narrative but not a part of readers’ lives in the way she is a part of Mike’s life. But we can’t excuse Miracleman along the same grounds. True, it’s Mike, not Miracleman, who’s married to Liz. But Miracleman shares Mike’s memories, and he has no reason not to so much as think of his alter ego’s wife. If readers don’t think of Liz because they’re used to super-heroes acting above mere mortals and above the law, Miracleman is just such a super-hero.
Miracleman embodies the genre’s thoughtlessness. It’s not that he’s ill-willed. It’s just that his alter ego’s wife being awake and worried doesn’t register a blip on his godlike radar. Gods don’t bother to phone to reassure worrying humans. Miracleman’s action is inconsiderate and insensitive, but it’s perfectly in line with his past behavior.
This is further evidence that Mike Moran was right, in chapter seven, to feel like he was “less than.” It’s not simply that Miracleman can fly, or that he’s impregnated Mike’s wife, or that Mike feels emasculated as a breadwinner. It’s that this man, with whom Mike can’t compete, doesn’t have to call Liz. He doesn’t have to show concern or care, on such a quotidian level. And at this point, it’s hard imagining Liz holding this against Miracleman. How could you?
As Liz’s narration continues, she worries about the baby inside her. This begins with more human concerns: “I’m 36. Around 40 they say you run a greater risk…” Liz consoles herself with the fact that she’s gotten proper prenatal care and testing. She tries to reassure herself that everyone’s fine. But when she gets to Miracleman’s name in her list of people she tells herself are fine, she shifts and contemplates what the baby will be like. Whether “it’ll be born with super-powers” or be some kind of drooling freak.
As we’ve already discussed, she’s right to be concerned. There might be no reason for her to think the child would be born a monster (though stranger things have happened in super-hero comics). But Larry Niven’s 1971 essay “Men of Steel, Women of Kleenex” reveals the very real danger to her, if indeed the unborn child has super-powers. It’s reasonable for her to be concerned. Essentially, she’s growing an alien being inside her. And in this way, her anxieties dovetail with very normal female anxieties during pregnancy. The fantastic elements of the narrative might exaggerate such concerns, but those concerns aren’t themselves fantastic.
It’s a nice touch, in a rather male-centered narrative, which belongs to a rather male-centered genre.
Liz’s concern about Mike and her concern about her child aren’t merely linked by her worried emotional response. Both are also illustrations of how she’s become powerless over her own life. It would be easy for us to think that she’s blessed, to be the girlfriend of a super-hero. We might contemplate this by defining her as a damsel in distress, as the story itself did during the battle with Kid Miracleman. But here, Miracleman’s straying into far more unconventional – and far more realistic – territory. The effect of Miracleman’s presence is to put Liz’s life into a state of radical uncertainty. His impregnation of her embodies this uncertainty.
She’s become an accessory in her own life. And it’s really not Miracleman’s fault, despite his inconsiderate behavior. No, the state of Liz’s life is a consequence of what Miracleman is. She’s no longer Liz Moran, nor can she be. She’s a pawn – at best a beloved pawn – in Miracleman’s orbit. The gravity of what he is, by itself, deforms everything.
Accenting her state of distress, this page has no panel borders, and its backgrounds are entirely black. Earlier on the page, this black seems to accentuate the fact that it’s night and Mike hasn’t returned, nor called. By the end of the page, it seems to accentuate Liz’s directionless mental state. She’s lost.
It’s worth pointing out that Miracleman uses a similar black background to illustrate the mental state of Johnny Bates, as Kid Miracleman taunts him. We’ve seen this already, in chapter six, and we’ll see it again as the narrative progresses. Johnny Bates is trapped in his own mind and plagued both by memories of what he’s done and (literally, it seems) by Kid Miracleman. Liz Moran has no such tormentor, unless we count the absent Miracleman. But the similarity in which they’re presented underlines the similarity in their mental states: directionless, lost, and trapped within themselves due to events beyond their control.
The page ends with Liz having a realization about her artwork, a representation of how such creative insights can seem to come out of nowhere. And there’s certainly a metaphor for the creative process here, especially in the role stress plays in that process. But here, it’s the creative work that’s the distraction and the ostensibly distracted thoughts that really matter. But because she’s powerless over these things that really matter, she’s incapable of making progress on those subjects – at least on this particular night. So while her distraction might be just that, it’s also at least productive activity, even if it seems inconsequential in comparison.
It’s nice that this page touches on Liz, and it’s nice that she’s depicted with the care Miracleman hasn’t afforded her. Through its realistic lens, Miracleman grants Liz Moran’s understandable anxieties some of its vital narrative space, and the result is a better – and more ethically responsible – story.
But it’s also nice to see how well Moore captures distracted thoughts and the remarkable way our brains sometimes use distractions to channel our mental energies from unproductive, stressful topics into productive (albeit sometimes weird) activity. Liz is practicing avoidance here, but doing so in a way that’s nonetheless capable of generating insight, even if it’s into an altogether different subject. There’s remarkable psychological realism on display, and it aids us in understanding the effect of the super-hero on those around him. Avoidance may have negative connotations, but it’s altogether healthy under the circumstances.
To be continued.