Fitting Young Miracleman’s “Quiet Desperation” into Miracleman, Book Two

We’ve discussed the silent Young Miracleman story (parts one and two) originally printed in Warrior #12. Today, we discuss how to understand that story as part of Book Two.

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

Speaking of unreality, it’s clear that this story is not supposed to have occurred within Miracleman continuity proper. Rather, it’s supposed to be one of Gargunza’s implanted memories, rather than reflecting events that Young Miracleman really did in 1957.

Young Miracleman in Warrior #12, page 4The most obvious reason why this story isn’t supposed to have taken place, outside of a Gargunza-induced fantasy, is its depiction of extraterrestrials. While the universe of Miracleman does include alien life, it certainly doesn’t involve ice-people from Pluto, let alone ones with little miniature people sprouting from their heads. Such depictions could have been made in 1957, before we had sent probes to the other planets in the solar system, but they now seem delightfully antiquated. In this way, the story also criticizes past depictions of extraterrestrial life: the aliens in Miracleman will be far more, well, alien.

While a thoroughly satisfying story on its own terms and an important experiment in silent comics, this silent story, like all of the interludes produced for Warrior (including this story, “The Yesterday Gambit,” and the two-part “The Red King Syndrome”), is difficult to place within Alan Moore’s three Miracleman books. One could, for example, just stick this silent tale in the back of a collected Book One (since it was originally published between Book One and Book Two), although that would be a rather thoughtless and inelegant solution. My own contention is that “The Red King Syndrome” works best as a prologue to Book Two, and it certainly reflects the book’s overall themes. This silent story then works best as an epilogue to Book Two.

This helps tie together Book Two, which suffers from artistic inconsistency. Book Two would thus begin and end with a story drawn by John Ridgway that deals with the fantasy world that Gargunza has constructed. Book Two is also kind of a mess structurally, with chapters suddenly doubling in size near Book Two’s ending; using this silent story as an epilogue helps to impose some symmetry. This structure also mirrors Book One, which has a prologue and epilogue that are even almost the exact same lengths (and which also deal with Gargunza’s implanted memories). Also, John Ridgway inked Book Two’s final chapter, which helps ease the way into this epilogue, despite that his inking style for that final chapter is much less detailed.

At first, this five-page silent story doesn’t seem like it would make a very good epilogue to Book Two. But Book Two doesn’t feel like it has a proper ending, since its final chapter is dominated by setting up Book Three. If Book Two ends there, the book’s ending is pretty unsatisfying, which underlines the structural and artistic faults of Book Two. Reading Book Two with this epilogue, it’s remarkable how much better the book works as a whole. As we’ve already seen, Alan Moore repeatedly made endings mirror beginnings, which creates a very satisfying effect for the reader. Using this tale as Book Two’s epilogue thus reflects the structure of Moore’s original stories, and it also makes the volume a far more satisfying reading experience.

And because the epilogue is silent, it encourages meditation on what we’ve seen in Book Two, rather than the book ending abruptly, which would let the reader close the book and permit the reader’s unsatisfied feeling to linger. Book Two has a lot to offer, and giving readers this silent coda encourages the mind to recall those strengths and to forgive the book’s weaknesses.

One might suspect that the silent, seemingly throw-away story doesn’t really reflect the concerns of Book Two’s climax. In fact, the story works very well in this context. The dichotomy between how Dicky Dauntless and Young Miracleman handle their respective female co-stars certainly reflects the tensions in Mike Moran’s relationship to Liz, who seems more attracted to Miracleman, despite his emotional distance, than to her all-too-frail husband. More generally, the Sputnik strain of the story subtly implies the super-hero’s role in history, which will become dominant in Book Three. So too does Young Miracleman’s cavalier irresponsibility help foreshadow the return of Kid Miracleman, whose selfishness will be horrifyingly expressed in real-world terms, as opposed to the fantasy world of this story.

Most immediately, this epilogue provides a bittersweet touch of innocence after the disillusioning events of Book Two – and before the increasingly severe realism of Book Three. As an epilogue, the silent story at first feels like a charming throwback to more innocent times. But the way that the necklace melts, leading to Dicky’s dejection, lends this innocent story a sad overtone, reminding us that this joyous and innocent world was only a fantasy. We may also notice Young Miracleman’s irresponsibility, suggesting that these happy fantasies only feel so innocent because we identify with Young Miracleman’s position of privilege. But the sense of lost innocence is accented by nothing so much as the choice of Young Miracleman as the story’s star, given that he’s dead in the real world’s present. The final panel, in which Dicky drives away from us, can even be read as a reminder of his death – and it’s a great image to end a book on.

Young Miracleman in Warrior #12, page 5

All of this is present in the story itself, but becomes strengthened when the story is recast as an epilogue to Book Two.

Finally, there is the question of a title. I reject “Young Miracleman” as the title, since that logo appears to be the title of the feature, not the story – just as the “Miracleman” logo appears in all stories reprinted from Warrior. Some have cited “1957” as the title, but this is only a caption above the first panel, giving the date of the events. (It’s technically “1957:” – with a colon – and no one includes the colon in the title.) The story is thus untitled, but it requires a title to be consistent with the rest of the Miracleman corpus.

I think “Quiet Desperation” works remarkably well. It reminds readers of the experimental nature of the silent story, and it also refers to the lengths to which Dicky goes to impress the secretary. There’s certainly a desperation there, beneath the ending’s funny twist. And we’ve already seen how the story is set during a time of desperation, in which the U.S. was freaking out over Sputnik 1 and close the “missile gap.” The title “Quite Desperation” thus subtly underlines how the story undercuts its apparently inconsequential innocence.

The phrase “quiet desperation” comes originally from American naturalist Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), in which he says most people “lead lives of quiet desperation.” But the phrase, while still used generally, has come to be identified with the British and their mentality of keeping a “stiff upper lip,” despite suffering and class struggles. This title thus emphasizes the Miracleman Family’s Britishness, as well as Dicky’s somewhat sad job as a postman. And of course, extracting a title from a quotation is also quite in line with revisionism generally (especially Watchmen) and with some previous Miracleman stories.

Young Miracleman in Miracleman #6, page 5

Next time: some thoughts on Marvel bringing Miracleman back into print.

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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.

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Julian,

    Thank you again for this long and in-depth review of Warrior and Miracleman Book One. I have tried as best as I am able, to show my appreciation by commenting wherever your analysis inspired new thoughts from me. I realize you wrote most of the articles in this series quite awhile ago, but I hope you go back and read the newer comments that have been added since. Now that Marvel is reprinting Miracleman (and so far doing a bang-up job!) I imagine you’ll be getting a lot of comments on this analysis in the immediate future.

    As to the inclusion of “Quiet Desperation” into Marvel reprint canon, I have no doubt it will be included. “The Yesterday Gambit” made into issue 2 of the reprints, which feels like a miracle unto itself. (According to Marvel’s website, issue 3 will include the “Cold War, Cold Warrior” Warpsmith stories. I haven’t read these before and am chomping at the bit to get my hands on a copy!) The interesting thing will be seeing where it gets placed. If it does indeed get placed where you propose, then you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing an editor at Marvel read and agrees with your argument, especially if this story is given your proposed title.

    Realistically, though, I doubt this will come to pass as you propose. The reprints seem to be adhering to the order presented in Warrior (mostly). My guess is that this story will run somewhere between “Zarathustra” and “Catgames” since that is where it ran when it was first published. The title “Quiet Desperation” while clever, also seems unlikely. Marvel’s reprint of Chapter Two went untitled; I think this story will as well. It will likely be referred to in the table of contents simply as “Warrior 12: art by John Ridgeway” or as “Young Miracleman feature”.

    I didn’t know the phrase “quiet desperation” was coined by an American, or by Thoreau in particular. It brings to mind a quote from the song Time by the British band Pink Floyd: “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way…”. It certainly feels like an English mindset. So if the story is reprinted untitled, as the cynic in me believes, you and I know what the real title to this story really is. I think Neil Gaiman himself would approve of a sentiment like that.

    P.S. I know you have other literary proposals in the works, but don’t forget your promise to analyze Miracleman Book Two. I’ll be waiting.

    - Jonathon

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