Break from the Bat Special: Mister Miracle #1

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We can’t help it. We want to compare. How is Mister Miracle like Tom King’s other work? Is it the next Vision? Will this latest King/Gerads collaboration be anything like Sheriff of Babylon? Nine-panel grids, a far off place—another Omega Men, perhaps?

What do we have here?

These questions are understandable, but they are the wrong questions; more than that, they are the wrong sort of question. Before Tom King inherited the hottest seat in all of comics, he worked alongside three very different, very amazing teams of artists and letterers to produce three very different, very amazing stories. These books clearly come from the same mind—not because of common method, but rather their impeccable quality. The right question, therefore, is not which of King’s prior works will frame Mister Miracle, but rather, what do we have here? How will he delight us today?

As I consider that question, I will of necessity spoil some significant points in the book’s plot. But here’s the most important spoiler of all: if you have not yet read Mister Miracle #1, you should. Skip to the bottom of this review for a safe list of reasons why. Then come back and consider it with me. Until then, be warned—there are spoilers going forward.

Something isn’t right

Mister Miracle #1 is not a book for the uninitiated. Or maybe it is. It really depends on how a reader approaches a body of connected fiction. A kingdom as complex as DC’s contains many and competing histories. You can make a go at catching up on what was before reading what is, or you can experience comics like life: things happen. You may not understand why, but you try to make sense of them anyhow. Maybe you can learn about how something was previously handled, maybe you can’t, but that doesn’t stop you.

If you fall into the former camp, and this is your first experience with Mister Miracle, then you may find yourself frustrated. With the exception of the title character, King offers no introduction. We get bits and pieces of information about Barda (wife of Scott, raised in the fires of Apokolips), Orion (raised in the undeserved comforts of New Genesis), and others, but these scarce revelations create more questions. King offers no introduction, and neither does he offer an apology. He presents these characters in the middle of their existence, and doesn’t sully a tightly-written script with gobs of background material. If that bothers you, by all means, go back. Read Jack Kirby’s original Mister Miracle, learn all you can of the contentious history between New Genesis and Apokolips. Darkseid is—find out why. But then come back. This book is worth it.

If you instead, like me, slip into fiction expecting—and relishing!—a good bit of mystery, then this first installment is about as close to perfect as you can get. Because even if you know everything there is to know about Kirby’s Fourth World, the truth of Mister Miracle #1 is slick and wriggly—death and Darkseid the only points of fixity on a horizon distorted by their residual heat.

Not free

Whether or not you know anything about Mister Miracle, the opening pages of this book are arresting. A man dead on the bathroom floor, apparently from self-inflicted wounds. That same man dejected after being rescued by his wife and doctors—death defeated by joyless, confusing life. Reality slowly unravels, first in the subtle distortions of and variations in Gerads’s artwork. The opening few pages hearken back to the old four-color printing process, riddled with visible dots, but Scott’s blood flows in a richer, more solid color. There are several aesthetic shifts, what looks like strips of tape over faces, signs of wear on normal panels. Before King ever gives voice to Scott’s confusion through dialogue, Gerads lays the foundation. You feel uneasy before you can say why. Before G. Gordon questions Mister Miracle’s reality, we are already questioning it in our hearts. Did you escape death, Mister Miracle?

The trap, then, isn’t death. The trap is the life that makes death seem like an escape. If you know anything of Mister Miracle’s backstory, then you can understand this all the better, but it resonates just the same no matter what you’ve read. The trap is being unable to lay your hands on reality because reality is too painful. Reality is being beaten by the illegitimate heir to your birthright. Reality is a father who would choose unstable peace over his own child. Reality is loss. But the escape—the true escape—is Mister Miracle himself. There are three places in this book where King and Gerads break their strict nine-panel grid: Scott’s suicide, Darkseid’s victory over Scott’s mind after the death of Highfather, and this:

Art by Mitch Gerads and Clayton Cowles

Death, Darkseid, and—caught in the middle—the man who would dare defy them both and live: the man inside the boy inside the dream. This page is where I suspect King and Gerads are headed. And their first step is as beautiful and haunting a comic book as you’ll find on the stands.

Recommended if…

  • You like being thrown into the middle of an intriguing situation without much background.
  • You appreciate the expressiveness and subtlety in a skillfully-used nine-panel grid.
  • You want to get in on the ground floor of what will be a serious contender in next year’s Eisner Awards.

Overall

While made richer by prior experience, Mister Miracle #1 nevertheless offers a compelling proposition to adventurous newcomers. The tragedy of Scott Free’s situation nearly overwhelms, but hope surges defiantly beneath the horror and confusion of his tortured life. King and Gerads have delivered a meticulously-crafted first chapter that will leave readers desperate for the next.

SCORE: 9.5/10

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