“The Yesterday Gambit,” Part 4

We’ve introduced Alan Moore’s Miracleman interlude from Warrior #4, “The Yesterday Gambit,” and examined its firstsecond, and third segments. We now turn to its final segment, illustrated by Steve Dillon, in which Miracleman and Warpsmith return to 1985.

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

As Warpsmith and a severely fatigued Miracleman return to 1985, they immediately turn back to the threat posed by the story’s unspecified “enemy.” Warpsmith “pray[s] to the sacred Dau” that they haven’t arrived too late, a sign that this alien also has an alien religion. And he immediately attempts to “contact our comrades and establish whether they have managed to contain the enemy.”

They haven’t, or so a voice announces from off-panel. What looks like eyebeams strikes Warpsmith. One is blocked by “a hastily constructed warp,” an indication of the extent of Warpsmith’s powers to rapidly – or even automatically – create warps so precise that they could intercept a beam in motion. The other eyebeam, however, passes through Warpsmith’s right shoulder.

From "The Yesterday Gambit," page 9

(The opposite shoulder was wounded on the story’s first page, as a result of warping to Silence. There doesn’t seem to be any poetic meaning to this mirroring, although Warpsmith’s wounds do accentuate his status as martyr, at least as this story would ultimately play out.)

The unseen enemy, still speaking off-panel, dismisses Miracleman, saying “As long as I’ve known him[,] the old man has always tried [to stop me].”

The story then gives us its big reveal: the villain is Kid Miracleman, whom the present-day narrative had only just introduced at the time this story was published.

From "The Yesterday Gambit," page 9

“Call him monster,” reads Moore’s caption. “Call him enemy. Once he had a different name. Once he was Kid Miracleman. He isn’t a kid anymore. He isn’t even a man…”

It’s a remarkable revelation, announcing that Kid Miracleman – only just revealed to be a villain in the serial’s present-day chapters – wouldn’t only be Miracleman’s first opponent but his final one, at least in terms of Moore’s work on the series. Readers could correctly presume that Miracleman, in the present, would defeat Kid Miracleman – but also that the villain wouldn’t be killed.

There’s even some indication that Kid Miracleman wouldn’t strike at all, between his first and final clashes with Miracleman. Warpsmith soon says the villain “seeks revenge for the way [he was] defeated before,” which suggests a single previous battle. This thus isn’t the conventional super-hero’s arch-villain, who repeatedly returns but loses, preserving the story’s status quo.

Instead, Moore’s Miracleman seems to be announcing itself as the kind of limited-but-extended story that would soon rise to prominence in comics. That rise is strongly linked to taking comics seriously as literature, which strongly privileges finite stories with endings planned in advance. The circumstances of serialization in Warrior might have pushed Moore in this direction, but “The Yesterday Gambit,” more than any other story, announces how far Moore has planned this story in advance – and thus its literary ambition.

As Miracleman’s arch-villain, Kid Miracleman represents Moore’s revisionist agenda. Those who misunderstand revisionism as merely interested in dark plots and characters will find evidence in this transformation of a member of the Miracleman Family into Miracleman’s arch-villain. Indeed, Moore tells us that “all his marvels are black ones” (a line that would need to be changed, were this story reprinted under the Miracleman name, to the far more evocative “all his miracles were black ones”). This darkness is further reflected in Steve Dillon’s redesign of Kid Miracleman’s costume, which seems to be all-black, except for his chest logo.

But of course, this darkness is also a logical result of Moore’s super-hero psychology – and what Kid Miracleman has been through. In this sense, the key phrase isn’t “all his marvels are black ones” but “He isn’t a kid anymore.” No, Kid Miracleman is no longer a child – but neither is the super-hero genre, under Moore’s pen. Its darkness, while dramatic, isn’t gratuitous; it’s realistic and adult, in the best sense of the word.

Kid Miracleman, holding the fatigued Miracleman, uses his eyebeams to blind the hero, then begins to beat him. But the injured Warpsmith, praying again to his alien god, summons “the stolen power” he’s gathered throughout this stories. The villain sees this and jumps at Warpsmith, who raises his hand and unleashes the gathered energies.

From "The Yesterday Gambit," page 10

The blast is large enough to rip a large hole through Silence.

Moore ends the story with three panels, one for each of the time periods featured. All three panels are ominous.

In 1963, the Miracleman Family, having revived, approaches Gargunza’s flying fortress, which we know will explode with nuclear force, setting the events of Moore’s story into motion. “Death whispers in their souls,” Moore writes, “but they cannot hear it above the shrieking wind.”

In 1982, the newly revived Miracleman returns to Earth to talk to Liz. It is now night in England, reflecting the change between chapters one and two. Moore describes the lights of London at night, as Miracleman approaches them, as a “grounded constellation.” He writes that Miracleman is returning “to the woman he loves…” but “is soon to lose.” It’s a poignant reminder of the ominous hints the story has made about Liz (as well as a suggestion, in the word “soon,” that Moore might have intended her departure to occur a bit earlier in his story).

Moore once again shifts to the then-future of 1985 by use of the sound metaphor, and though he’s successfully seeded sounds into the 1963 sky, he’s a bit less effective at describing the London “traffic noise” that gives way to the word and image of “Silence.” “The past is a noisy place,” the caption reads, ridiculously, straining the poetic device.

He redeems himself a bit in the final panel, in which he describes 1985 as “an unfathomable future,” a phrase that hints at the way Miracleman’s presence will distort the world into something alien and bizarre. Moore describes Silence’s setting as “the cold green depths,” which would nicely suggest the way humans perceive sound poorly underwater, except for the fact that the story has transgressed the logic of sound by placing dialogue in outer space. Still, these are nice, evocative phrases, and Moore ends the story with the word “Silence,” accompanied by a quiet image of Miracleman’s wrecked Fortress of Solitude, which suggests by its stillness the possibility of the characters’ deaths.

From "The Yesterday Gambit," page 10

That final panel is perhaps less ominous than sad, and it sets the tone for where Moore’s story is headed. In the story’s placement in the story’s original serialization in Warrior, it hung over everything that followed, reminding readers that this was a story that was going somewhere – and that the imposition of a super-hero into a realistic world probably wasn’t going to yield a happy ending.

Moore’s poetics, at the story’s end, are almost enough to almost redeem to silliness of the story’s central conceit – as well as some of its dialogue, which is strangely far more melodramatic and conventional super-hero fare than anywhere else in Moore’s Miracleman. But Moore, still a young writer, doesn’t weave the theme of sound through the story as well as he might.

Still, should we be so inclined, we can see in this idea of silence a reflection of the medium of comics itself. After all, sound is an odd theme for a silent medium. And this is a story that, for all its faults, suggests the ambitious, literary scope Moore brought to the narrative.

Moore may not have intended this, but at its height, “The Yesterday Gambit” is a bold experiment in narrative, “a stunning glimpse” (as the editorial text above the first page proclaimed the story) not only into Miracleman’s future but into a super-hero narrative that was being written as a serious literary endeavor. That the experiment failed in key respects should not detract from its audacity.

And in that audacity, it provides “a stunning glimpse” into the potential of comics as a visual medium, however that medium may be defined by silence, by its limits.

Next time, we’ll return to the main narrative for chapter four, in which Miracleman begins his original face-off with Kid Miracleman.

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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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2 Comments

  1. Fred Hill says:

    I wasn’t aware of this Marvel (or “Miracle”) Man story before but the ending in particular reminded me of Jim Starlin’s story “The Strange Death of Adam Warlock” from Warlock #11, published in 1975. In that tale, the present Warlock travels in time to meet his dying future self whom he must slay to prevent his tranformation into the morally monstrous Magus. His future self of 1977 is already dying and laments the course his life has taken over the previous two years, welcoming his own demise. As it turned out, the Warlock series was cancelled a few issues later and Starlin didn’t quite relate all that this story hinted at, although he did retell the story in 1977 from the perspective of the then current Warlock meeting his past self.
    Although “The Yesterday Gambit” takes a different course, the similarities are close enough to make me wonder if Moore was aware of Starlin’s earlier tale and in any way influenced by it. To my knowledge, Starlin and Moore never worked together, save for a cover Starlin did for one of the Miracle Man issues published by Eclipse.

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