Mister Miracle has been mostly absent from DC's comics for the past few years — a strange, weird relic of an older age. That makes him perfect for a revival in the form of his brand new ongoing series from Tom King and Mitch Gerads, a fascinating and intense exploration of personal trauma that brings something haunting to a Jack Kirby classic.
Image: DC Comics. Art by Mitch Gerads.
It's only natural to draw comparisons between King's work alongside Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire on the best comic of 2016, The Vision, and what the writer sets out with his Sheriff of Babylon collaborator Mitch Gerads in the first issue of Mister Miracle. Both series take dark, grim looks at kooky legacy characters from the silver ages of comic books, mixing some intense personal drama with the superhero trappings of the avenging android and Jack Kirby's Christ-like escape artist to create stories that are unnerving and quite unlike anything else being told in mainstream comic books.
Where Mister Miracle differs from The Vision is an underlying sense of scale that intermingles with the nitty gritty of the personal story of Scott Free, a godlike being of two very different worlds. Just like The Vision's focus on the synthezoid family Vision built for himself, Scott's personal issues drive much of Mister Miracle #1 — his estranged relationship with the New Gods and his quasi-half-brother Orion among them, but most importantly Scott's mental health, driving him to attempt suicide in the opening pages of the issue in an act he believes is the "ultimate escape", the only way he can elevate his career as an escape artist to something new.
The thing is, Scott Free is a New God — they're basically immortal. Slashing his own wrists won't, in the grand scheme of things, really lead to the "ultimate escape" Scott is chasing. But the attempt to take his own life speaks to fractured mind of a character who has otherwise been typically portrayed as a weird, happy-go-lucky superhero despite the fact his origin involves his father, the New God leader Highfather, sending Scott to grow up on the hellish world Apokolips as Darkseid's adoptive son as part of a peace deal between New Genesis and Apokolips.
The Scott Free we meet in Mister Miracle #1 is a mentally and spiritually broken man, wracked with haunting memories from his past and a raw, itchy feeling that part of himself is missing in the wake of his suicide attempt. He's troubled by visions of deceased friends. He can't tell what's real and what isn't, at one point imagining himself on a cheesy late-night talk show — a beautifully illustrated sequence by Gerads, with a static, distorted aesthetic that both feels retro-appropriate for an old school Jack Kirby creation such as Mister Miracle and lends proceedings a weird, dreamlike haze — that leads him to ponder if he really survived his suicide attempt.
Gerad's art — which masterfully contrasts the clean, bold and colourful style of Jack Kirby's art in the costumes of Mister Miracle, Big Barda and Orion with the sketchy, shaded style of the "real world" these characters inhabit — goes a long way in adding to the symbolism of Scott's dislocation from his surroundings, unsure to tell what's real and what's a figment of his damaged psyche. Aside from the TV-as-dream aesthetic at the sequence above, there's the way Gerads colours a sequence with Scott and his old circus-act companion Oberon in the issue lays the groundwork for a revelation that Oberon is actually dead, and Scott was imagining talking to him — Scott being fully coloured, while Oberon is painted in shades of white, grey and black.
At another point, Scott swears to his wife, fellow New God Big Barda, that her eyes have changed colour on him from blue to brown, something she denies, leading to more doubts that he's losing a grip on the world around him — only for Gerads to colour Barda with her eyes sparkling bright blue in the final pages of the story. The whole issue is filled with tiny details in the artwork such as these, making the reader feel just as unsure of the world they're presented with as Scott himself is.
It speaks to a bitter irony King discussed when Mister Miracle was first announced: As a New God, Scott Free is one of the most powerful beings in the cosmos. On Earth, he's a member of the Justice League and one of the most famous escape artists around. But no matter what he does, even attempting to take his own life, Scott Free cannot escape himself, the horrifyingly brutal life that lead him to flee to Earth with Barda in the first place, and the trauma that it has caused him.
But Scott's raw emotional shattering in Mister Miracle #1 also comes at a terrible time for the wider universe around him, which plays out in the first issue as an underlying, gutwrenching sense of dread — another similarity to King's prior works, but here it comes across on a much larger sense of scale than the dread that pervaded the familial woes of The Vision. Lurking in the background of Mister Miracle #1 is the growing threat of Darkseid entering all-out war with the New Gods. Storywise, Darkseid's presence — he never actually appears — is a slow burn. An offhand mention by the Highfather to Scott that Darkseid has finally found his anti-life equation (a mind-controlling formula he's been seeking for years), to a final-pages revelation that Darkseid has murdered Highfather and brought war to New Genesis.
The tension is ratcheted up constantly throughout the comic with a simple, yet stunningly clever technique — a simple black panel with white text that says, 'Darkseid Is.' At first, it's just one panel out of the nine on a page (itself a throwback to old-school comics, when the nine-panel-page was a popular format). Then it's two. Then three, or four, constantly interrupting into the story of Scott's mental struggle, a symbolic, choking pressure that physically grows and eats up the page, eats up the story until it reaches a breaking point. Even as Scott feels as though he's losing his grip on himself, the structural nature of the threat of Darkseid swarming Mister Miracle #1 paints a stark, contrasting image of two incredibly messed up situations merging into one grim mess for Scott Free. One that, in the final pages of the issue, Scott heartbreakingly has to admit to his wife that he's unsure he can get out of.
And yet it's one, as painfully traumatic as it is, that he has to momentarily put aside to counter Darkseid's threat, a decision that could have devastating ramifications for Scott as a person. What good is saving the universe if it means losing grip on what you are in the process?
In Mister Miracle #1, King and Gerads lay the groundwork for what could be one of the most fascinating series out of DC this year — an exploration of a bizarre, broken man amidst the cosmic weirdness of Jack Kirby's fourth world. There is no better way to honour Kirby's contribution to the comics world in what would have been the year of his 100th birthday than Mister Miracle's bold, chilling take on one of his strangest creations.
If depression is affecting you or someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.