Mister Miracle (2018)
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerards
Scott Free is the man who cannot be captured, contained, or trapped. After surviving a brutal childhood on the planet Apokolips, he came to Earth where he became Mister Miracle, a super escape artist. Years have passed, and now he’s married to fellow Apokaliptian Big Barda. They live in Los Angeles, where Scott continues his career in entertainment. Periodically, he’s pulled back into the ongoing conflict of the New Gods while trying to carry on as normal a life as possible. However, something dark has overtaken Scott’s mind as of late, he begins to suspect that Darkseid has won and his Anti-Life Equation has already infected Scott, pulling him into a slow mire of depression and darkness.
If you’re not familiar with Mister Miracle, he was part of an entire sub-line of characters created by renowned artist and writer Jack Kirby in 1970. Kirby was always drawn to cosmic, operatic stories and heroes, so he brought those touches to the DC Universe. The New Gods concept while being visually appealing have always been a bit of a hard idea to explain, and even some writers have shown difficulty understanding the tone these characters need. While called the New Gods and also bearing some mythological names, they aren’t gods, rather highly advanced humanoids caught up in an ever-escalating conflict of peace & life versus war & annihilation. Out of such lofty material, Scott Free has always managed to be the most human, due in large part to further character development he received from Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis in the pages of Justice League International and his solo series in the 1980s/90s.
What Tom King brings to the table is an understanding and appreciation of the groundwork laid out before him plus his sensibilities as a storyteller. He chooses to focus on the themes of Scott as someone refusing to be restrained. As a child, Scot was raised in the orphanage of Granny Goodness, a torturous boot camp that worked to break its charges of self-identity and make them loyal subjects of Darkseid. In this twelve-issue series, the war between Apokolips and its sister planet New Genesis has becomes an all-out assault on the former world. Orion, Darkseid’s son who is an adopted child of New Genesis, has taken to some truly bleak and cynical tactics which make his “side” appear to have little difference from the enemy he’s fighting.
Scott and his wife Barda are caught in a deeply entrenched system of tradition and loyalty. There are peace talks held through the series where characters that are ordinarily mortal enemies sit across from each other discussing the terms of the cease-fire. Neither side is changing their behaviors or the core of what makes them wrong in the other’s eyes. They are just worn down by losses, for now, that they want to negotiate a temporary peace. They talk about atrocities with such a casual nature, shrugging at them as if to say, “What can you do? This is the nature of things.” This is one of the systems Scott is trapped inside of, and his abilities as a super escape artist can’t do anything about that.
Buried in another layer of the story is the history of how the New Gods were created by Jack Kirby and his falling out with Marvel Comics and Stan Lee. One of the minor side characters introduced into the New Gods mythos was Funky Flashman, a hype man carnival barker type, very much based on Kirby’s personal feelings towards Stan Lee. Flashman speaks with a constant alliteration and boastfulness about himself and anyone he represents. There’s also hints of Asgard and Thor when Kirby gives his brief retelling of the birth of the New Gods. An ancient civilization goes through what could be labeled as Ragnarok, and the New Gods arise on the ashes of that, a second chance to make right, Kirby’s second chance to get the deserved recognition that he believed was stolen from him by Lee.
Scott is also part of marriage, one form of bondage he has no desire to escape. His relationship with Big Barda has always been an element of the character I’ve enjoyed. Other, more prominent figures have gone down the aisle, but writers never seem to know how to transition from the single life into a realm of new responsibilities. Joe Quesada handed down the controversial edict to erase Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s marriage because he believed superheroes work better when they aren’t in committed relationships. Superman and Lois were married for over a decade before the New 52 reboot ended all that only to have it resurrected with DC Rebirth. Unlike other characters, when I read Mister Miracle stories, I fully expect Barda to be there, without her the stories feel empty.
One of the more insidious elements of this series is the appearance of blacked out panels reading only “Darkseid is.” In interviews, King has explained that he had discussions about what made Darkseid different from his standard analog Thanos. Thanos doesn’t seek the death of the universe; instead he wants everything that lives to be infected with his oblivion oriented view of life. All should be in thrall to Darkseid, all beauty and creativity suppressed. In the case of Scott Free, Darkseid is driving him towards suicide, self-annihilation, working to make him feel powerless in the face of so many ancient systems that Scott must follow.
There is so much depth to these twelve issues that their analysis and annotation could fill a book longer than the comic. Throughout every issue, Tom King works to make Scott’s story the same as Kirby’s story and in turn his own. There are ruminations on how we’re all trapped in layers of systems and can’t break free of them, how we’re being led down a path to an inevitable end. We often can see the pain and the ruin coming but behave as if we’re on a fixed track. Scott wonders about the nature of an actual god, not the cosmic beings he is descended from, but a truly omnipotent and omniscient entity guiding existence. Mister Miracle is not a plot-driven story, but a theme and character focused one, a story that will linger with you and speaks to both the comics medium and broader ideas of identity and agency.