Sex and Nuclear Armageddon in Young Miracleman’s “Quiet Desperation”

We’ve begun discussing the silent Young Miracleman story originally printed in Warrior #12. Today, we continue that discussion.

(If you’re new, hop to the introduction, to the beginning of Book One, or to the interlude “The Yesterday Gambit.”)

There’s an amazing amount of details in those five pages, enough that we can understand the characters’ reactions without dialogue. We even can imagine the cold Plutonian society, in which everything in the world is icy and even jewelry is made of ice. The reaction at what seems to be the Plutonian royal court, with its armed guards, lets us know just how out outrageous it is to them that someone would enter, let alone touch the queen’s person, without consent.

Beyond the twist ending of the jewelry having melted on Earth, the main humor of the story comes from the contrast between how Dicky Dauntless interacts with the secretary and how Young Miracleman interacts with the Plutonian queen. Dicky Dauntless is timid to a fault, but Young Miracleman seems like a confident scamp. Dicky is so afraid of a simple secretary rejecting him that he has to have Young Miracleman secure a necklace from Pluto just to impress her. Young Miracleman, however, is confidently invulnerable, betraying no sense of feeling threatened by an entire planet, and just takes what he wants without considering the consequences. The Plutonian queen may seem like a sexy alien out of the original Star Trek, but Young Miracleman certainly hasn’t heard of the Prime Directive: invading the planet to steal the jewelry off the body of Plutonian royalty, merely to impress a girl on Earth, makes perfect sense.

What’s even more interesting is the way the two women treat these two men. The secretary seems flattered by Dicky’s attention, but he blushes more than her. The Plutonian queen, at first, seems frightened by Young Miracleman’s implied threat to her person. In the panel in which he reaches towards her chest, there is certainly an implied threat of rape: the image is clearly sexual, and she’s obviously helpless before his power. Of course, he’s not interested in sex and is delighted to steal her necklace instead. Her reaction isn’t relief, however, but disappointment: she reaches out to him, as if longingly. “All you want is my necklace?” she says with her body language, as if her abject fear has given way to stereotypical feelings of rejection.

There’s real pathos here, in Dicky’s longing. But there’s also an ugly, masculine sense of entitlement, in Young Miracleman’s behavior, who not only cavalierly breaks into Pluto’s royal court and steals a necklace right off the queen’s neck, but who also causes a crash while flying there through space traffic. He shows no sign of care over either infraction.

In this contrast between shy Dicky and cocky Young Miracleman, the super-hero power fantasy is encapsulated in a single, five-page, almost entirely silent story. Here is every shy, geeky fanboy who, on some level, wishes he could speak a magic word and become the confident super-hero whom the girls would want. We can think here of the Superman / Lois Lane / Clark Kent love triangle, in which Lois wants the amazing Superman but has no time for his timid alter ego – except that here (as in some of the earliest Superman stories), Young Miracleman seems like a different person entirely. It’s no different from the psychological appeal of the old Charles Atlas ads that used to run in U.S. comics, promising to turn a scrawny guy into a muscular man whom all the girls on the beach will want – except that here, no exercise or pills are required… only a magic word.

Moore’s stereotypical depiction of the two women can be forgiven, in the context of this fantasy. Beyond playing on the power fantasy implicit in super-heroes, the two girls play on the mundane irony that women tend to reject kind but needy men in favor of the confident “bad boys” who aren’t really that interested in them. In this way, the story lays bare the sexual psychology underlying super-heroes, implying that this psychology is only an exaggerated case of the quotidian ironies of gender relations.

Moore’s Miracleman has already shown how the psychosexual appeal of super-heroes is tied not only to sex but to power. Indeed, Young Miracleman’s sense of confidence, of immunity from the rules of other societies and nations, represents a colonial, imperialist mentality.

The story is set in 1957, one year after the story that serves as Book One’s prologue. Like that other story (which was actually produced later), this one also demonstrates the silliness of traditional super-hero stories, in part through the stories’ Cold War setting. In the opening panels of this story, as Dicky arrives to deliver the letter, a newspaper lying in the street carries the headline, “U.S. Space Shot Fails.” This is a reference to the U.S.’s failed attempts to launch a satellite into orbit, culminating with that nation’s successful 31 January 1958 launch of Explorer 1. The reason the U.S. was hurrying was because of the uproar caused by the world learning that the U.S.S.R. had, on 4 October 1957, of the satellite known as Sputnik 1. In fact, Sputnik 1 is the single satellite seen orbiting the Earth on page three of this story. This helps date the story further, as the Soviet launch of Sputnik 2, on 3 November 1957 (before the U.S. launch of Explorer 1), has not yet occurred. Thus, the story must take place between 4 October and 3 November 1957.

This is important because it helps ground the story in a real historical setting, one of profound Cold War paranoia and the early days of the space race. The launch of Sputnik 1 lead to profound anxiety in the West, since it demonstrated that the Soviets were ahead of the U.S. in rocket technology. While this is mostly remembered in hindsight as a sign that the U.S. was losing the space race, the deeper implication was that the Soviet Union’s more advanced rockets could be used to deliver atomic payloads. This triggered paranoia over what became termed the “missile gap,” existing between U.S. and U.S.S.R. missile technology. At the time, nuclear war was expected in the form of fleets of bombers carrying nuclear payloads. There was already profound nuclear anxiety: most people thought that nuclear war was inevitable, U.S. cities were outfitted openly with anti-aircraft batteries, children were trained in schools to duck and cover in the event of a nuclear attack, and suburban families were having fallout shelters installed below their lawns – installations done in secret, lest their neighbors overwhelm the shelter on the day atomic horror came. At the time of Sputnik 1’s launch, both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were testing ICBMs, or inter-continental ballistic missiles, capable of delivering atomic payloads from newly vast distances. The launch of Sputnik 1 made the West absolutely freak out because it suggested that, if the Soviets had a rocket powerful and reliable enough to reach orbit, it already had ICBMs. This implied that all those anti-aircraft batteries were useless: the U.S.S.R. could trigger nuclear armageddon from a distance, without the inconvenience of sending bombers, and the U.S. could not retaliate in kind. In fact, the U.S. would make up the gap in missile technology within six months, and the Soviets didn’t yet have an arsenal of nuclear-tipped ICBMs. But the West panicked, perhaps understandably given the stakes of nuclear apocalypse.

This wasn’t the first time the West panicked over a perceived technological “gap” with the Soviet Union. Beginning in 1954, talk began of a “bomber gap” with the Soviet Union, initially based on over-calculations of the long-range capabilities of the M-4 Bison, a Soviet bomber. In an infamous July 1955 incident, during an aviation display, Soviets flew 10 Bison bombers past the observation stands six times, flying out of sight before returning each time. Western analysts believed that there were 60 bombers on display, demonstrating a vast production capacity. This perceived gap became exaggerated both by paranoia and political convenience, as it was used as an excuse to increase the defense budget. Beginning in 1956, U-2 spy planes began secretly flying over the Soviet Union, partially to determine that nation’s bomber capacity. One early flight (on 4 July 1956) photographed 20 Bison bombers at a single base, causing further paranoia. Apparently by chance, that flight had actually photographed the entire Bison fleet – all 20 were at a single base. Over time, however, additional flights would confirm that the bomber gap simply didn’t exist. While the U-2 flights were secret, the U.S. government stopped talking about a “bomber gap,” although it took a bit longer to disappear from public consciousness. It was later learned that the Bison bomber’s range would not have let it hit the U.S. and also make a return trip, since the U.S.S.R. lacked bases in the Western hemisphere. (This wasn’t a problem for the U.S., which had friendly bases much closer to the Soviet Union.) The U.S.S.R. only produced a total of 93 Bison bombers, until production was shut down in 1963, and only a small fraction of this fleet was on nuclear alert. The U.S. eventually produced far more of its long-range nuclear bombers: over 2000 B-47s and almost 750 B-52s. At least the “missile gap” of 1957 was real, although much smaller than imagined.

(Stanley Kubrick’s satirical 1964 war movie, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb parodied both the “bomber gap” and the “missile gap.” In the film, the Soviet Union develops a Doomsday device out of fear that the U.S. is doing so and that a “Doomsday gap” may result. The film doesn’t spare the U.S.: one of its generals, in discussing plans to use mine shafts as fallout shelters, declares that the U.S. “cannot afford a mine shaft gap.”)

Despite this setting of abject nuclear paranoia, the story is lighthearted, and Young Miracleman seems utterly unconcerned as he breezes past Sputnik 1 on his way to steal a necklace to help the shy Dicky impress a girl. It’s hard, as we see that panel, not to wonder why Young Miracleman would not help the West get a satellite into space. If he’s so nonchalant about ripping the jewelry off the neck of an alien queen, why wouldn’t he just knock Sputnik 1 out of orbit? Here, we see the political and historical impotence of traditional super-heroes, who can’t be allowed to affect history for fear that their world would move away from the readers’ own. Yet, as both Miracleman and Watchmen argue, the presence of super-heroes would inevitably deform world history. In this context, Dicky Dauntless wanting to impress a girl and Young Miracleman taking time to steal an alien necklace appear not so much silly as criminally superficial. During the height of the Cold War, as the West was freaking out about how the Soviet Union was demonstrably more technologically advanced, Young Miracleman does this? Moore thus undercuts the story’s perfectly charming inconsequence, exposing the unreality of traditional super-hero stories and suggesting that his super-heroes will alter world history – as will be seen at the end of Book Three.

Next time: placing this story in continuity and in Miracleman, Book Two.

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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.

See more, including free online content, on .

Also by Julian Darius:

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  1. Thanks for the history lesson on the space race and the missile gap. I would accuse you of over-analyzing what is an otherwise lighthearted throwaway story, except that the panel of Young Miracleman flying past Sputnik 1 features sound effects emitting from the satellite. In a “silent” story such as this, any text at all is attention-getting, because of its rarity. Here the sound effects are calling the reader’s attention to the existence of Sputnik 1, as well as Young Miracleman’s lack of concern with it.

    Since the re-written version of “Invader from the Future” was so concerned with specific years, mentioning 1956 and 1981 over and over again, and “The Yesterday Gambit” made so many allusions to specific moments in history, then your analysis is completely justified. I would dare say that Alan Moore would be pleased to know that readers understood his intentions so well. Ill admit I missed the reference to Sputnik completely until I read this article. Thank you for deepening my understanding. It allows me to re-read a comic I already love like I’m reading it for the first time all over again.

    I would like to add a few points I think this article overlooks. These are ideas of which you’re likely already aware, but may help strengthen your points made above:

    You mention the beauty disparity between the Plutonian ice queen and her subjects, who have those strange mini-torsos jutting from their heads. Here is an old, old sci-fi stereotype at play. The earliest popular version in our modern culture I can recall is A Princess of Mars, but the archetype likely goes back to the ancient world. It’s a purely male fantasy, where the men of an alien culture a monstrous beasts to be slain and conquered, and the women are comely virgins to be bedded by the male hero. (Could you imagine how unusual it would have been if John Carter turned his amorous pursuits to Sola, rather than Dejah Thoris?)

    Here, Moore assumes the reader is knowledgeable of this stereotype, being a sophisticated enough reader to have encountered it at least once before reading this story. That’s what makes the reversal, when Young Miracleman snatches the necklace and leaves, all the more amusing.

    On the subject of sexual idealism, some mention should be made about Young Miracleman himself. The ice queen is certainly a beauty, but then, so is our hero. With the exception of his collar, belt, gloves, and boots, Young Marvelman is almost drawn like a nude figure, and an idealized one at that. In the first two panels where he encounters the queen, the only indications he is in any costume at all are those and the black stripes across his back.
    Since women are so often objectified in superhero comics, it seems fair to point this out.

  2. Edgar Retana says:

    “Here, we see the political and historical impotence of traditional super-heroes”

    This is something that I see Japanese superheroes sidestep as well but in different ways that we do here. I’ve come to notice that many Japanese superheroes, the ones that hew most closely to traditional ones; such as Kamen Rider or Sailor Moon, almost never fight “crime”. It seems the Japanese writers realized the impotence of such a concept way before we did. The closest they ever get to fighting “crime” are the James Bond-esque super organizations like Dai-Shocker or Professor Monster’s goons in Spider-man.

    If anything one of the Japanese adapations of Spider-man, he’s probably the one most adapted into a Japanese hero, tires of superheroic antics and Yu Komori, Spidey’s alter ego quickly tires of it too and descends into depression.

    In Dragon Ball Gohan, Goku’s son, briefly tires being a traditional superhero and it’s treated as an utter joke with Gohan having his secret identity discarded in funny ways too and being more challenged by the doing “cool” poses rather than be intimidated by cartoonishly simple thugs. Cell a literal clone of all of the heroes is always more dangerous.

    • Horaz SC says:

      Wow; I forgot Son Gohan’s briefly turned into Great Saiyaman and how it plays (and certainly deconstructs lightly) on the perceived joke it would be to have a hero running around these Western tropes on Eastern pages.

      This could also apply to further distinctions in one Dragon Ball article I’ve read here at Sequart that intends to draw parallellisms between Superman and Son Gokuh, which to me are non-existent swince they are very different works.

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