“The Yesterday Gambit,” Part 3

We’ve introduced Alan Moore’s Miracleman interlude from Warrior #4, “The Yesterday Gambit,” and examined its first and second segments. We now turn to its third segment, illustrated by Alan Davis, in which Miracleman and Warpsmith revisit Miracleman’s 1982 rebirth.

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

The Alan Davis sequence occurs on 4 February 1982, immediately following the end of chapter one. Readers may recall that there’s a gap between chapters one and two, during which it’s not entirely clear what the newly returned Miracleman did. Miracleman’s return offers a suitably dramatic moment to visit, but this choice also helps fill in a gap in Moore’s story, which may be seen – whether intended as such or not – as a way of repairing a narrative flaw.

Readers may also recall that it wasn’t clear, from the end of chapter one, whether the depiction of Miracleman shouting while beyond Earth’s atmosphere was meant to be taken literally, given that image’s expressive nature. Here, Moore and Davis literalize the image, as Davis redraws Miracleman in exactly the same pose he made in the final panel of chapter one, then continues the story.

From "The Yesterday Gambit," page 6

It’s a useful device, visually signaling to readers exactly when this sequence takes place. (Moore’s captions do this too, although they’re not really necessary.)

But Davis copies Leach’s image so well that he virtually announces himself as an able replacement for Leach, which he would soon become. This isn’t to say that Davis wouldn’t have been chosen otherwise, but Davis’s ability to copy Leach in this way, then continue in a style that doesn’t seem out of sync with that copied image, certainly served as a powerful demonstration that Davis could fill Leach’s shoes.

From Miracleman, chapter one, page 8

Miracleman marvels at the moon, much as we imagine he might have marveled at the Earth from space. (Moore’s dialogue isn’t the strongest here: Miracleman says the moon looks like “a beautiful blue jewel!” – although the moon isn’t blue.)

On a lark, enjoying his rediscovered powers (and perhaps also his freedom from Mike Moran’s body), he goes to the moon, zipping along its surface. Standing on the moon, Miracleman contemplates how he wishes to share the experience with Liz. It’s strange, then, that he doesn’t – although chronologically, he’ll soon talk to her, as seen in chapter two.

From "The Yesterday Gambit," page 6

It’s during these thoughts that the 1985 Miracleman strikes. Moore narrates that, faced with another version of himself, “reality wavers” for the 1982 Miracleman. He doesn’t merely think his duplicate is a dream. Logically, he begins to doubt the second half of chapter one too: “his rebirth […], his flight through space… all a dream.”

But of course, the fight is real – as is “the hurt.” It’s this that causes the 1982 Miracleman to fight back, his thought balloons filled with melodramatic dialogue (“All of a sudden I don’t give a damn if I’m crazy or dreaming” and “Nobody does that to me[.] Nobody!”)

It’s notable, given where Moore’s story would soon go, that pain is the method by which reality asserts itself. Although Miracleman’s return was triumphant enough, Moore will soon begin associating great pain with his characters waking to the truth of things.

From "The Yesterday Gambit," page 7

Moore’s poetry almost returns as he describes the fight. He describes “the rising billows of luminous dust,” though he leaves it to the reader to imagine how the moon’s paltry gravity carries these natural elements disturbed by the battle. Given how the Miracleman Family has been described as “contemptuous of gravity” (during chapter one’s “dream of flying”), there’s an odd way in which the surroundings, barely imprisoned by gravity, echo Miracleman’s own fantastic state. At the same time, they are disturbed, much as Miracleman will disturb his world. This lunar debris, set into motion by the fight, might have a longer arc in the moon’s lesser gravity, but its course is decided from the moment it encounters Miracleman (and his double). This echoes the way the narrative explores the implications of Miracleman’s presence, as if everything that will happen is inevitable from the moment Miracleman returned. Moore suggests all of this with his language (helped by Davis’s artwork), but he regretfully doesn’t tease out the rich poetry he could have.

Instead, Moore goes for irony, revealing that the battle takes place on the Sea of Tranquility. It’s a superficial irony, based only on nomenclature. But it’s hard not to see this as a precursor to Dr. Manhattan on Mars in Watchmen, where Moore would use cosmic terrain to suggest an irony that is both itself cosmic and, curiously, even more arbitrary than a name.

Surprisingly, the 1985 Miracleman finds himself apparently outmatched by his just-revived, 1982 counterpart. He blames this on being weakened by having just battled the entire Marvelman Family, and we probably ought to believe him, given that Miracleman would only grow in power – or awareness of and comfort with the power he already possesses – over the course of Moore’s work.

The 1982 Miracleman beats his future counterpart with a melodramatic punch. The 1985 Miracleman’s final thoughts before “oblivion” (by which it’s clear Moore means unconsciousness, not death) have to do with his mission: he hopes Warpsmith (“his alien companion”) has successfully harnessed the energy released by the fight. This attention to duty – until now, Warpsmith has seemed more professional – subtly suggests the severity of the threat awaiting the pair in 1985.

Warpsmith sneaks up behind the 1982 Miracleman, apparently shocking him into unconsciousness. To his revived companion, Warpsmith reveals that the mission has been a success and that Miracleman’s “former self” will, like the Miracleman Family, not remember the encounter upon waking.

Implicitly, this period of unconsciousness explains the gap of time between chapters one and two that can seem odd or mysterious there.

Indeed, the future Miracleman points out that his past counterpart will return “home. To his wife.” Implicitly, he’s remembering the events of chapter two.

Then comes a wonderfully suggestive few lines that do more than anything before to tease out the way this story, at the time of its original publication, suggested the future of Moore’s narrative.

“Did I ever tell you about Liz, Warpsmith?” the future Miracleman asks, hobbling towards the swirling portal Warpsmith has opened to return them to 1985.

“Yes, my friend,” replies Warpsmith. “And I am very sorry that events transpired as they did.”

From "The Yesterday Gambit," page 8

It’s a lovely, brief exchange that invites the reader to wonder if Liz is dead in 1985 – or, if not, what sad events have transpired. But that’s a gimmick, in such a future story. What gives this wonder in the reader power is how Warpsmith’s language changes here so dramatically. Until now, he’s treated Miracleman with considerable distance, perhaps even with a certain amount of disdain. Suddenly, at the mention of Liz, Warpsmith calls Miracleman “friend” and expresses emotions. “And I am very sorry,” he says, and these simple words mean something because of how much it contrasts tonally with everything else he’s said.

The pair enter the warp this “alien companion” has created, ending the sequence. Moore bridges this sequence with the next through a caption, saying the trip “begins in whispers” and “ends in… / …Silence. 1985.” It’s a simple bridging device that could be read as a precursor to the more complex transitions Moore would famously employ on Watchmen. In this case, Moore’s playing with words the same way he did with the “Sea of Tranquility” – which also used a proper noun. This case is more successful, however, because the two elements – whispers and Silence – aren’t at odds at all, the way tranquility and a super-hero fight scene are. Rather, they indicate a progression: the trailing end of sound, as it gives way to entropy.

In fact, if one reads the previous fight scene(s) as loud, as they certainly are both literally and figuratively, the language here of ebbing sound suggests that the story knows it’s mostly given the reader a melodramatic, even clichéd super-hero story, in which heroes fight other heroes for a preposterous reason. That was innocent, in its own way, despite being occasioned by a threat not only to Earth but “many worlds.” It is only a sideshow, much as “The Yesterday Gambit” was a side story of sorts. The reality to which Miracleman and Warpsmith are returning isn’t nearly so innocent.

It’s not entirely clear what is meant, in this caption, by the “whispers” on the 1982 side of the portal. Its best literal explanation is the sound of the portal, which is perhaps both a manifestation and the source of Warpsmith’s powers. The first time the portal is used, Moore’s caption says “the winds of time howl through the place called Silence.” As Warpsmith opens the portal this time, we’re told in a caption that “The blue giant’s telepathic whisper is weak. Even with all his circuitry, Warpsmith can barely hear it…” Presumably, despite the 1982 Miracleman comparing the moon to a “blue jewel,” the “blue giant” here is Miracleman, who has been gravely wounded in the battle. The “whispers” thus refer to Miracleman’s injured state and to Warpsmith’s powers, in which case Moore’s simply playing with language to set up another ironic linguistic transition.

But these “whispers” also connote the words exchanged between of our two main characters:  sad ones about Liz which might indeed be spoken in hushed tones. And these whispers give way to future that is, implicitly, defined not only by an as-yet-unspecified threat but also of loss.

Next time, we’ll turn to the story’s concluding sequence, illustrated by Steve Dillon.

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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 ” A Stunning Glimpse Into the Marvelman Legend!” The Yesterday Gambit foreshadows many events that will be later played out in full in Miracleman Book Three: Olympus. The tragic resolution of Miracleman’s relationship with Liz is certainly one of these, but the one I wish to address here is the destiny of Kid Miracleman.

    “I guess we all know what happened to Kid Marvelman” Miracleman states in this story. I imagine, as a reader following these stories in the order of their publication, that what “we all know” refers to the reveal of Kid Miracleman at the conclusion of Chapter 4. As a reader following this story chronologically, however, this statement takes on an whole other meaning, as we will in a few more years see the horrors Kid Miracleman unleashes when he destroys half of London. Granted, with so many other aspects of The Yesterday Gambit foreshadowing things yet to come, a reader ignorant of those events can safely assume this quote is alluding to actions Kid Mircleman has not yet performed in print. The placement of this story in the series’ publication suggests terrible things are about to happen when the main story resumes in Chapter 5. It will indeed be interesting to see where in the chronology Marvel intends to reprint this story, if indeed they reprint it at all (even through you, I, and a countless number of other readers all hope they do).

    Another aspect of this story that I find it interesting is that every super-powered brawl in this story takes place far from human civilization. The first battle happens within the Arctic circle, the next on the surface of the moon, and the last at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

    This strange choice in geography seems to serve a number of functions. First, it gives the story, and it’s characters by implication, a certain otherworldly flair. John Carter on Mars is certainly more exotic than John Carter in Virginia, for example. Miracleman seems that much more super when it is shown what litle effort it takes him to traverse to and survive three locations that could easily kill we lowly humans.

    Secondly, the geographic isolation makes the conceit of wiping Miracleman’s memory of encountering his future self twice a little easier to swallow. After all, Warpsmith, 1985 Miracleman, and the 1963 Miracle Family are the only characters involved.

    Lastly, and most importantly, these locations eliminate the possibility of civilian casualties during any of the fights. Collateral damage becomes a major issue when Miracleman and Kid Miracleman duke it out in Book Three. It is implied that millions are killed by Kid Miracleman’s rampage through London and possibly hundreds more are killed in the cross-fire during Miracleman’s ultimate confrontation with his former sidekick. I am reminded of Richard Lester’s Superman II, where Superman flees from Zod, Ursa, and Non to the Fortress of Solitude to keep the citizens of Metropolis safe from the battle with his fellow Kryptonians.

    I can’t help but wonder if Moore was thinking about the massive damage and horror a superhero brawl would create in the real world when he wrote The Yesterday Gambit. I wonder if he knew how his epic story that concluded in 1988 would end as early as the 1982 Warrior Summer Special. I wonder also if he saw Superman II when it was in theaters and if the movie had any influence on his story-crafting in Miracleman. Wouldn’t it be a funny coincidence if Superman II influenced Miracleman, which then influenced Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which itself was also influenced by Superman II? It’s fun to speculate, yet difficult to prove.

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