Miracleman, Book Two:

“Quiet Desperation”

We’ve previously introduced Miracleman and discussed all ten chapters of Book One (starting here), along with the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit,” which were originally published in Warrior #1-11. We now begin Book Two… with the silent story that originally ran in Warrior #12.

Book Two, Epilogue: “Quiet Desperation”

Writer: Alan Moore. Art: John Ridgway. Originally appeared, in black and white, in Warrior #12 (Aug 1983) as “Young Marvelman” (or untitled, if one takes this simply as the strip’s logo). Reprinted in color in Miracleman #6 (Feb 1986) as “Young Miracleman.” Never collected.

This is probably the most inconsequential of all the Miracleman stories. It was only created to provide some “Marvelman” content for a single issue of Warrior, while Moore and Davis prepared Book Two. It wasn’t even given a proper title; instead, all that appeared was the “Young Marvelman” logo. Eclipse’s Miracleman not only ran this story as a back-up feature, rather than within the narrative, but as the final of three such back-ups, placing it after Ridgway’s two-episode “The Red King Syndrome,” despite those two episodes having been produced and originally published later (in Warrior #17). And unlike those two episodes, this story was left out of Eclipse’s collected Book Two.

The story itself is little more than a simple, five-page story with a single twist. Such tales were common to British comics anthologies, particularly to 2000 AD and its “Future Shocks” strips, for which Alan Moore wrote. The formula was simple: dramatize an interesting, often futuristic situation, then provide a twist ending, usually in two to four pages. But it’s a formula that, while limited, certainly works, and it helped plenty of British writers learn how to build such twists into their writing.

What really makes this story interesting is that it is almost silent, except for sound effects and “in-story” lettering, such as on signs or in newspapers. All dialogue has been suppressed, except for when Kid Miracleman shouts his mentor’s name, to trigger his own transformation. Yet the reader is still perfectly able to follow the simple narrative and interpret the characters’ emotions. Any dialogue would actually detract from the piece, removing the layers of ambiguity that we can read into the character’s gestures, expressions, and actions. This sense of ambiguity also applies to the story and its deeper, symbolic meaning, if any: dialogue would only serve to pin down possible meanings, whereas the silence helps the reader interpret more freely.

Suppressing the dialogue also provides more room for John Ridgway’s masterful draftsmanship. Ridgway is vastly underappreciated in the annals of comics artists, largely because he never illustrated a classic story that has entered the canon of common reference (with the possible exception of the first year or so of Hellblazer). Ridgway has also eschewed super-hero work, and his style lacks the bombastic qualities common even in other detailed, realistic artists. But his work is nothing less than a joy to behold, and it’s hard not to be thankful that, at least here, there aren’t unnecessary words hovering over it in balloons.

It’s worth pointing out that the idea of a silent comic book story, while not new, was certainly more radical in 1983 than it has become. In the U.S., the great trailblazer of silent comics was G.I. Joe #21 (Mar 1984), published by Marvel Comics about six months after the Young Marvelman story in Warrior #12. The story in G.I. Joe, entitled “Silent Interlude,” was written and penciled by Larry Hama, with inks by Steve Leialoha. It followed the same rules as the Young Marvelman story, using only sound effects and “in-story” lettering, and it was widely praised for its ability to convey a story without dialogue or captions. Of course, “Silent Interlude” ran a full 22 pages, over four times the length of the Young Marvelman story. It’s possible that Larry Hama was reading Warrior, saw how this Young Marvelman short story worked, and seized on the idea of expanding the concept into a full American issue. On the other hand, Hama might have had some other inspiration. What’s important here isn’t what inspired Hama but that the Young Marvelman story, while ostensibly disposable, was actually a vital experiment in comics storytelling that was ahead of its time.

In the story itself, set in 1957, Dicky Dauntless, in his job as a mailman, rumbles up on his motorbike to an office, for which he has a letter to deliver. Inside, he gives the letter to a fetching secretary, causing him to blush. As she walks away, her high heels clicking on the hard floor, she’s clearly aware that he’s ogling her body as it wiggles away – and she doesn’t seem put off by the fact. As she goes into an inner office to forward to letter to her boss, Dicky holds his chin, clearly having a thought. He speaks his mentor’s name, and a panel showing an atomic cloud signals his transformation, right there in the office.

Young Miracleman in Warrior #12

Young Miracleman soars into the air, then passes a single orbiting satellite as he departs the Earth itself. As he nears Pluto, he passes some Plutonians riding an outer-space equivalent of motorbikes. These bizarre-looking aliens have smaller bodies growing out of their heads: just a little head, arms, and torso, which seem to act independently of the body below them. Young Miracleman’s presence seems to send the motoring Plutonians into a frenzy, firing blasters and careening around wildly, hitting each other as well as a sign, hovering in space, that reads “Pluto welcomes careful drivers” (which is how we know the location, without captions or dialogue). Flying down to the planet below, Young Miracleman sees an icy landscape of jagged towers and Plutonian civilians driving through the frozen streets on a sled. He then enters what seems to be a royal palace of sorts, flying past two guards armed with axes. Inside, similarly armed guards vainly attempt to prevent Young Miracleman from reaching what seems to be the Plutonian queen, a gorgeous, barely-dressed woman decorated with various jewelry. Apparently, only the male Plutonians have weird mini-aliens growing out of their heads; the women are fantastically beautiful. Ridgway does a great job with facial expressions: both the guards and what seem like male members of the royal court seem alarmed, as if Young Miracleman’s entry there is almost sacrilegious.

As he approaches the queen, her reaction is clearly one of fear, if not horror. A panel shows Young Miracleman’s hand reaching towards her, almost grasping her breast, emphasizing the sexual nature of his implied threat. In the next panel, we see his real agenda: he has ripped off her elaborate necklace, causing him to smile and all the Plutonians to stare with shocked, open mouths. As he takes off, stashing the necklace in his mail satchel, the queen reaches out to him ambiguously, not so much ordering her guards to get him as trying unconsciously to touch him or summon him back. Smiling contentedly, Young Miracleman easily dodges a guard’s blaster fire, then zooms past the soldiers on outer-space motorbikes, whose fists are raised in rage. (In a brilliant touch, even the little aliens growing from their heads have raised fists.)

We next see Young Miracleman fly through a window, apparently of the office he has just left. Quickly transforming back to Dicky Dauntless, he meekly holds his open satchel out for the secretary, who is only now returning from her boss’s inner office. He blushes as he holds the satchel out for her, and she reacts as if flattered that he’s offering her a gift. Inside the satchel, however, there is only a standing pool of water, dripping through the bag and off the panel’s edge. As he leaves, dejected, she slams the door behind him. All that remains is for him to get on his motorbike and sputter away.

Young Miracleman in Miracleman #6

To be continued.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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3 Comments

  1. While certainly not a “silent story” in a strict sense (opening and closing framing pages do have dialogue in the form of word balloons and narrative captions), I can’t help thinking of “The Silent Night of the Batman” (Batman, Vol. 1, #219, Feb 1970) as an early, “honorary” entry into this category of silent comic book storytelling. Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano collaborated on an 8 page holiday back up tale that is generally remembered as sort of a cherry on top of the much lauded pastry that was the O’Neill/Adams run on Batman. The majority of the interior pages tell a series of vignettes without any accompanying dialogue or narration. The only words printed to accompany those vignettes are the lyrics to Christmas carols that Batman and GCPD sing while the spirit of Christmas seemingly keeps crime at bay in Gotham as the Darknight Detective (reluctantly) takes one evening off from patrolling. I first encountered this tale as a tweener when it was reprinted in one of DC’s giant treasury editions (Limited Collector’s Edition C-43: Christmas with the Super-Heroes, 1976). At that age, and that time in comics publishing, I was greatly impressed with the quality Adam’s and Giordano’s art, as were just about everyone, but I was also quite amazed at the ability of the artists to tell a story so clearly and evocatively without dialoguing or narrating the specific actions. Little did I know at that age that this was not really anything miraculous. Indeed, communicating story content with pictures is exactly what comic book artists are supposed to do. However, there was an irony of sorts to being so overwhelmed by the creators doing just that. It rather reflects how lazy, to some extent, many, if not most, comic book writers had been throughout the Golden and Silver ages about using words in a redundant fashion to describe what is already being described in images. At any rate, if you haven’t seen this little gem, it is worth tracking down. The story is a very nice bridge of sorts, or perhaps an alliance, in terms of tone between the campy style that had spread like a contagion from the 60′s TV series to the Batman comics of that same era and the reemergence of the dark and gritty Batman that O’Neill and Adams had begun to reinvent about a year prior to this.

  2. Horaz SC says:

    After having known about Miracleman Family powers, young Miracleman being the young that he is assumed to be thought of, and this being an Alan Moore’s work,
    when Dicky gets to Pluto and goes to the queen, I imagined another thing entirely.

    You may as well call it the “LoEG syndrome”.
    Was I the only one..?

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