“The Yesterday Gambit,” Part 2

We’ve introduced Alan Moore’s Miracleman interlude from Warrior #4, “The Yesterday Gambit”, and examined its first segment. We now turn to its second segment, illustrated by Paul Neary, in which Miracleman and Warpsmith revisit the 1963 death of the Miracleman Family.

(We’ve also previously introduced Miracleman and discussed its first, second, and third chapters.)

from "The Yesterday Gambit," page 3

As the 1963 sequence begins, Moore characterizes the era, helping readers to imagine the historical context of the events: “Kennedy is in the White House, Macmillan is in Downing Street, Telstar is in orbit…” At first, this description might appear nostalgic, even utopian, describing an earlier era by reference to an idealistic young U.S. president and the first communications satellite, a symbol of the peaceful use of technology. But all three of these references are to things that would end within a matter of months or even days, thus signaling not so much this optimistic era but its imminent end – a perfect setting for the end of the innocent adventures of the Miracleman Family.

Telstar was the first to end. It was launched on 10 July 1962. (The second Telstar followed on 7 May 1963, after this sequence occurs.) Telstar 1 relayed the first television broadcasts from space in July 1962. It fell out of service in early December 1962, after its transistors were unable to cope with radiation from high-altitude atomic bomb tests by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Thus, this symbol of the peaceful use of space technology was ironically undone by military atomic technology. Scientists developed a workaround, and Telstar 1 returned to service in early January 1963, making it active during this sequence. It failed forever on 21 February – just nine days after this sequence takes place.

This wouldn’t be the last time Moore’s Miracleman would use the space race to characterize an earlier era. The silent Young Miracleman story (from Warrior #12) would use the Soviet Sputnik satellite in a similar matter. There too, the reference is more ominous than it might first appear.

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, while a conservative, had advocated for decolonization, became the first British Prime Minister to visit the Soviet Union, oversaw the development of Britain’s first H-bomb, and is especially remembered for forming close ties with the United States, including U.S. atomic collaboration and aiding in U.S.-Soviet nuclear negotiations. He resigned on 18 October 1963, just over eight months after this sequence.

But the most obvious reference to the end of an era is to the Kennedy assassination in Dallas, Texas, on 22 November 1963, nine months and ten days after this sequence. The assassination was an incredibly traumatic event on both sides of the Atlantic, and it’s often seen as representing an end of innocence and optimism. It also conjures memories of subsequent 1960s assassinations, such as those of Martin Luther King, Jr. (4 April 1968) and Robert F. Kennedy (6 June 1968), as well as systematic state violence used against civil rights protesters and, later, Vietnam War protesters (e.g. the 4 May 1970 Kent State shootings). For many, the dark edge to the turbulent 1960s first showed itself in Dallas in 1963.

This is neither the first nor the last time that Moore would infuse Miracleman with political context – that begins in the opening pages of chapter one. But here, that context signifies the end of an era, as well as the death of youthful optimism – a perfect context for the final adventure of the naively innocent Miracleman Family.

The 1963 sequence begins with exactly this tone, as the Miracleman Family “sport[s] in the snow” – having a brief, super-powered snowball fight, despite that they’re already aware of “Gargunza’s sky fortress.” This snowball fight might seem over-the-top in its silliness, but it serves to illustrate how carefree the Miracleman Family was, prior to this incident.

from "The Yesterday Gambit," page 3

In the version of these events seen when Miracleman relates them to Liz in chapter two, he says only that the Miracleman Family had “received the alert Gargunza had some kind of sky fortress hovering over the North Sea.” Neither there nor here is it clear from where the Miracleman Family had received this information. The two depictions are consistent, with one exception: in chapter two, Miracleman dates the event to October – after Telstar 1 had failed, the same month Harold Macmillan resigned as British Prime Minister, and much closer to the Kennedy assassination.

Knowing Gargunza is behind the sky fortress doesn’t give the 1963 Miracleman any additional cause for concern. He says that if the sky fortress is “up to that demented dwarf’s usual level of lunacy, it’ll provide all the amusement we can use.” Showing no awareness of the disaster to come, Miracleman blissfully positions his arch-villain’s latest scheme as an alternative to a snowball fight. The possibility of losing the encounter with Gargunza doesn’t seem to enter Miracleman’s mind. Gargunza is, to Miracleman, very much the comical villain he remembers in chapter two.

Into this naively innocent scene, Warpsmith and Miracleman appear from 1985, ambiguously but expressively rendered by Paul Neary. Miracleman immediately slams into his former self, beginning their fight.

from "The Yesterday Gambit," page 3

This violent and unprovoked attack places the 1985 Miracleman in the position normally occupied, in super-hero stories, by super-villains. Moore enhances this reading by allowing the sequence to begin with the 1963 Miracleman Family, so that this feels like their story, which Warpsmith and the 1985 Miracleman interrupt. The naiveté of the 1963 characters also makes the 1985 characters seem villainous in comparison.

That naiveté continues, even in response to the attack. “Holy macaroni!!” exclaims Kid Miracleman. The 1963 characters’ language is straight out of the comics of that era, but so too is the characters’ logic. Pointing out inconsistencies in costume design between him and his future self, the 1963 Miracleman calls his 1985 counterpart “this robot or whatever it is.” Clearly, this is an encounter between characters with very different paradigms, and the effect is almost comedic.

Such encounters have subsequently been depicted in Grant Morrison’s final issues of Animal Man, in which he parodied the dark super-heroes of the 1980s. Moore himself used the technique in his first issue of Supreme (#41, Aug 1996). Such encounters usually side with the innocence of old, mocking the darkness of 1980s and ’90s super-heroes. But the technique originated here, in the early days of revisionism, where its mockery was far more even and ambiguous.

As the two Miraclemen fight, Moore uses the occasion to briefly reintroduce Miracleman, ostensibly to explain why the 1963 incident is of such importance. It’s a weak portion, in which Moore’s poetry turns particularly purple. He writes that the future Miracleman “has seen too many people crushed by the grinding cogs of destiny.” Lines like this might have been intended to hint at where Moore’s story would go, prior to 1985, but they come off as vague and overdone instead.

Similarly, in summarizing what has happened to the Miracleman Family since 1963, Moore writes that “one died” (Young Miracleman), “one became a thing of unutterable evil” (Kid Miracleman), and “one survived to be reborn many years later with all but his heart intact” (Miracleman). Kid Miracleman had had just been revealed as corrupt in the previous issue of Warrior, which left the story “to be continued,” and this line in “The Yesterday Gambit” effectively revealed that he wouldn’t be reformed. But in what way was Miracleman “reborn […] with all but his heart intact?” Moore likely means only to imply that his Miracleman is a sad and tragic figure. But in the context of a clash between this Miracleman and the innocent 1963 Miracleman Family, Moore’s “heartless” language can come off as a condemnation of his own character, rather than a description of a sad reality.

The battle concludes as the 1985 Miracleman collides with all three members of the 1963 Miracleman Family – although this is only clear from Moore’s caption. The panel itself displays only an explosion in the air. This is particularly poor storytelling, for a visual medium. It’s reminiscent of the poor comics storytelling that was rampant in early-1960s Marvel comics, when captions restated imagery or were necessary to understand what was depicted. It’s certainly at odds with the sophistication Moore was now bringing to his work.

from "The Yesterday Gambit," page 5

Inexplicably, while the others lie unconscious in the snow, the 1985 Miracleman remains conscious after the collision, implying that he’s stronger than the entire 1963 Miracleman Family. No character nor caption mentions this.

Instead, the story concerns itself only with the bare mechanics of the plot. Warpsmith harnesses the energy of the explosion, although this isn’t shown either. In his own words, he’s “warped the energies into null-space, ready to retrieve when we return to our own time.”

Miracleman points out that the 1963 Miracleman Family will remember the encounter, a point we might well wish that he’d brought up sooner. Warpsmith explains that his technology can also handle this: “a simple psychic suppressor field will completely erase their memory of the last few minutes.”

Miracleman responds by ruminating on how the Miracleman Family will, upon waking, meet its fate. “Can’t we prevent this whole chain of tragedy taking place?” he asks. Again, we might well wonder why he hasn’t brought this up earlier.

from "The Yesterday Gambit," page 5

More interesting is Warpsmith’s cold response: “Don’t be naive […]. You know that is not possible within the inflexible structure of time.” The 1985 Miracleman seems as naive to Warpsmith as the 1963 Miracleman Family. It’s a mind-blowing implication that Moore’s Book Three would later tease out.

Warpsmith’s response also suggests that time cannot be altered in Miracleman. The past and the future are “inflexible” and not subject to change, as they are in most time-travel narratives. Even here, where Moore’s Miracleman is perhaps at its most conventional, the story still eschews certain pop culture clichés.

The sequence ends as Warpsmith and the 1985 Miracleman transport to their second destination, also chosen by Miracleman: 4 February 1982, the date of his rebirth, as seen in chapter one.

Next time, we’ll turn to the 1982 sequence, illustrated by Alan Davis.

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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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1 Comment

  1. As you have cross-referenced Alan Moore’s work on Miracleman with that of Watchmen, I feel the necessity to make a comparison here that I’m surprised you have not mentioned. Moore treats time-travel as a storytelling device here in a very similar way as he does in Watchmen, with regard to Dr. Manhattan’s ability to see the future.

    When Dr. Manhattan reveals his origin story in issue 4 of the series, he alludes to timelines as being inevitable. Jon Osterman had no choice but to walk into the chamber that would forever transform him. Dr. Manhattan is forever unable (or unwilling) to defend the pregnant woman whom the Comedian shoots dead in a bar in Vietnam. One almost gets the sense through Moore’s writing that Dr. Manhattan exists at all points in his own timeline simultaneously, or at least that this is how Dr. Manhattan perceives himself to exist. Ozymandias is even able to capitalize on this perception to prevent Dr. Manhattan from spoiling his ultimate plans for New York at the end of the story.

    With that in mind, the similarities between this story and that one should be clear. When Miracleman travels through his own timeline, he is unable to prevent the explosion that will take his heart, kill one of his partners, and corrupt the other. Warpsmith views Miracleman’s wish to alter his own history as naive, suggesting there is an unexplained set of rules to time-travel that cannot be ignored, altered, or broken. Time is just as inflexible to Miracleman, a figure of god-like power, as it is to Dr. Manhattan, who will also assume a similar godly status in a later Moore work.

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