Even more so than the previous page, the video content on this one is light enough to leave room at the bottom for Miracleman and Cream to react. The pair spend only one sentence responding to this page’s video: Miracleman says, “That explains who that maniac outside was…” That’s all this information means to Miracleman; it’s an explanation of who that colorful but minor annoyance was.
With the space remaining, Moore lets Miracleman react to the video sequences of the previous two pages too. He’s got unanswered questions, some of which will be answered on the following two pages but some of which will not. Specifically, he asks, “What in God’s name is a para-reality programming process?” (which will be the subject of the following page). He also asks what “an infra-spatial brain implant” or “a cellular replicate” means. This prompts Cream to say the word “cloning,” the first time any derivative of the word “clone” has been mentioned in the story.
Miracleman seems a little dense here. One answer to his question about what “a cellular replicate” is might be “You!” Davis’s art, in which Miracleman has his right hand behind his neck as if in stressed contemplation, reinforces this feeling that the character hasn’t quite put two and two together.
Of course, his cluelessness helps set up his shock, two pages later. For now, he doesn’t seem that upset, reflecting the fact that what he’s just seen concerns Big Ben, not him.
But if Miracleman’s a bit clueless, he’s also more logical than most characters in super-hero stories. He’s incredulous about Cream’s implying that Zarathustra might have been practicing cloning, much along the lines we’ve already discussed: “Cream, this happened in the early 1950’s [sic] according to that last tape. In the early ’50s[,] we hadn’t even developed polio vaccine.” As we’ve also discussed, this dating is erroneous; the sequence to which he’s referring occurred in 1949. But this only makes his point stronger, and it’s a logical one. By highlighting this logical problem, Moore presumably intends to set up his explanation (clear enough here, but explored at greater length in Book Two) that this technology came from an extraterrestrial “Visitor.” But as we’ve also discussed, while this is a step towards a realistic explanation, it doesn’t totally satisfy.
Miracleman suggests that he and Cream reverse the videotape, having clearly gone too far. Unbeknownst to them, however, Big Ben is standing behind them, having revived and entered the bunker. (He’s actually visible, in this page’s first panel, approaching the others.) Big Ben has been standing and watching the video of his origins; in fact, Archer’s report guesses that Big Ben saw the entire sequence presented on this page.
Big Ben looks pathetic. One eye is crying, the other swelled shut from his fight with Miracleman. For the same reason, his hair is disheveled and his mask torn.
It’s hard to take Big Ben’s grief entirely seriously, given how he’s already been presented in a satirical light. And there’s certainly a cruel humor to this scene. In some ways, Big Ben seems more like a character out of the sometimes darkly satirical super-hero comic The Boys, by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, than a character at home in Moore’s Miracleman.
For those who see Moore’s treatment of Big Ben as a slight against editor Dez Skinn, this is the final humiliation. And for all the internal logic of his story, it’s hard not to also see a certain cruelty at work too.
Still, if there’s ever been a moment we come close to identifying with Big Ben in Miracleman, it’s this. He’s a buffoon, but it’s not his fault. If Moore’s used him to parody the sort of jingoistic Cold War mentality that made Margaret Thatcher possible, Big Ben at least has an excuse. Perhaps everyone’s been programmed by social messages, but Big Ben has literally been programmed. There’s nothing to suggest that he’s a bad person. In fact, he’s a victim.
His trauma doesn’t come simply from seeing the truth about his origins. It also comes from the dismissive way that the video describes him as deranged. This dismissive tone is mirrored by Miracleman, who’s little more than mildly curious about the “maniac outside.” Big Ben thought he was a noble and powerful hero, but he’s suddenly seen that he’s a joke to everyone.
This includes his superiors, who are speaking in the video and who represent the British state he so loves. Our earlier parallel with religion is especially germane here, because fervent nationalism like Big Ben’s often carries with it a sense of religious devotion and the same inability to be objective that characterizes other inherited, dogmatic belief systems. Big Ben saw the world in terms of noble Tommies and evil Bolsheviks, and now he’s seen that those noble Brits have not only lied to him all along but, what’s worse, don’t even like him. What we see here is Big Ben in a state of psychological collapse, the kind usually associated with losing one’s religion.
It’s easy to see this page as a digression, in that it’s focused on Big Ben and that the videotape has literally been forwarded too far to see it, before being rewound to continue what we’ve seen on the previous two pages. On the other hand, Big Ben’s reaction here foreshadows Miracleman’s own.
Of course, Big Ben’s response here is quite different from Miracleman’s, two pages later. Big Ben’s reaction is internal, whereas Miracleman’s is external. Here, we may be reminded that depression and anger are often two expressions of the same kind of distress.
We might be tempted to think that Big Ben’s different reaction stems from his personal weakness, relative to Miracleman. But the idea that Big Ben seems to be more affected by learning that his superiors don’t even like him is key to understanding his reaction. Miracleman rarely cares what people think of him; he can even seem condescending or snide, in this respect. Big Ben, on the other hand, seems like someone who defines himself as a good guy. He’s like a faithful dog. He wants to be good, and he opposes the people he’s been told are bad, like Communists. He leaves the thinking to his superiors, whom he trusts. Now, his world has been stripped from him – and with it his ability to define himself. And so he collapses. He no longer has the foundation from which to explode into anger.
At the end of the page, Archer’s report refers to Big Ben’s “current condition.” Like Miracleman’s rage, this too is a reference to future events, and it may be considered a minor mystery alongside the chapter’s major one. It’s another way in which these two super-heroes, reacting to the Zarathustra videotape, are more alike than we might think, given Big Ben’s satirical elements.
We’ll briefly see Big Ben in the final panel of page seven, and then in more depth on the chapter’s final page, on which his “current condition” will be made clear. But first comes the final video sequence and the revelation of what made Miracleman burst into rage.
To be continued.