8/13/2017

Mister Miracle #1

Mister Miracle #1: Story: Tom King Art: Mitch Gerads Letters: Clayton Cowles Cover: Nick Derington  Mister Miracle/Scott Free created by Jack Kirby.
Story: Tom King
Art: Mitch Gerads
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover: Nick Derington

Mister Miracle/Scott Free created by Jack Kirby.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World is a major milestone of the medium. But his densely packed cosmos told through an interconnected web of comic book titles has never been sustained in any meaningful way past the original vision of its creator. And if we ignore the occasional appearances of main antagonist Darkseid, and the Forever People, the Fourth World has largely receded from the New 52 DC Universe. In short, most new comic book readers are probably unfamiliar with its continuity. But in their attempt to revive the adventures of Darkseid’s wayward son Mister Miracle, Tom King and Mitch Gerads make no concessions for them. In fact they double down on the titular character’s tangled history with his evil father with a rather abstruse, nonlinear tale that updates him for a less heroic age. Gone is the swashbuckling hero of the 1970s who defied Darkseid’s totalitarianism with a string of impossible feats of escape. What we have instead is the weary veteran who acts like he can no longer stem the rising tide of evil. Sort of like the gloomy Luke Skywalker as seen in The Force Awakens, but only more depressing.

Just to impress how bad things have become, King quotes the introductory text from the original Mister Miracle #1, dated from April 1971:
Is he a master of spectacular trickery or is he something more? You will have to decide when you confront the strangest, most incredible superhero to appear in comics! You will see what he does! You will wonder how he does it! But always waiting in the wings are his two greatest enemies: the men who challenge him—and death himself!
That final part leads to the comic's opening scene: A two page spread of Scott Free bleeding out on a bathroom floor after he has slit his wrists, apparently in an attempt to commit suicide. He’s rushed to the hospital by his wife Big Barda. The rest of the story becomes fragmented: Scott recuperates while experiencing flashbacks, visions, hallucinations. Or is he being manipulated by unseen forces? Is he actually still dying on that bathroom floor or a hospital ward?

Mister Miracle #1: Story: Tom King Art: Mitch Gerads Letters: Clayton Cowles Cover: Nick Derington  Mister Miracle/Scott Free created by Jack Kirby.

Gerads is key to creating this sense of unreality. His lo-fi art is the antithesis of today’s slick, digital production values. Or more accurately, it’s just as slick as anything in mainstream comics. But crafted to appear more analog. Colors are washed out. Lines are blurry, as if the printing plates might have been improperly registered on the offset press. There are printing artifacts such as halftone and moirĂ© patterns. Some of the pages looked taped together.

And there’s certainly nothing heroic about how the characters are drawn. Gerads’ down-to-earth representations make Scott and Barda look about as ordinary and vulnerable as anyone in reality. The couple spend most of the comic shuffling about in their cramped home. The only parts which betrays their otherworldly origins are visits from Highfather and Scott's sort-of brother Orion. That and the ever present threat of Darkseid. Almost every page is organized into the nine panel grid. Its primary effect here is to make the setting very claustrophobic. But with every grid, one panel is blacked out and populated with the words “Darkseid is.” As the comic reaches its end, more panels are randomly blacked out, until the story arrives at an entire black page occupied with nothing but those words.

Mister Miracle #1: Story: Tom King Art: Mitch Gerads Letters: Clayton Cowles Cover: Nick Derington  Mister Miracle/Scott Free created by Jack Kirby.

This will probably resonate with many anxious Americans experiencing the creeping sense of authoritarian rule undoing years, even decades, of progress. Witnessing epressions of hate and intolerance becoming more common. Or even just the vague sense of existential dread permeating modern life. If things seem desperate enough, death might seem less like an enemy, but more a relief from suffering. But King and Gerads do show two crucial scenes where Darkseid’s message is absent. It’s the readers’ and Mister Miracle’s lone slither of hope.