07th Feb2019

‘Mister Miracle: The Complete Series’ Graphic Novel Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Tom King | Art by Mitch Gerads | Format: 300pp, Paperback | Published by DC Comics

mr-miracle-gn-cover

I think it’s fair to say that Mister Miracle has always been, at the very best, a second tier character. The best thing he had going for him was that he was created by Jack Kirby himself, way back in 1971, as part of Kirby’s Fourth World books. Essentially a little corner of the DC Universe that Kirby carved out for himself, the Fourth World books were only moderately successful at the time, but have since achieved a high level of regard within the industry itself. Many attempts have been made at launching and re-launching the books, including several attempts at Mister Miracle himself, though none have really caught the public’s imagination. I’ve been a fan of Mister Miracle since the early 1980′s, when I first came across him, but then I’ve always had a lot of affection for second banana characters. So, it seems, has Tom King.

I would have loved to have been in the pitch meeting at DC when Tom King outlined both what he had in mind, and that he planned to use both Mister Miracle and the Fourth World characters, hardly marquee figures. I’m glad DC did green light it, as what Tom King achieves with this 12 issue meta story is akin to what Alan Moore would have achieved with the original Charlton characters had he been allowed to, before being told to create some throwaway characters called The Watchmen. Whatever happened to them? To say Tom King makes a few changes in the New Gods mythology is barely the tip of the iceberg. He smashes a sledgehammer through everything and everyone. Especially Scott Free, Mister Miracle himself.

This is a tough book to review in a conventional sense, because it works on several levels. You can either read it one level and be happy with that, or appreciate the many, many touches on every nine panel page. That’s right, aside from a handful of full page or double page spreads, every page is made up of nine symmetrical panels. Even Dave Gibbons only did that partially on Watchmen. Once thought a hopelessly dated form of drawing a comic book, Mitch Gerads reinvents it. Like much in this book, he subverts your expectation of nine panel pages in this case, and proves they can be re-imagined and used in a very creative way. They are amazing to read, packed as they are with so much detail, with characters walking across panels, endless Easter eggs, and with every item in a panel having a visual role to play.

Right from the very beginning, Tom King grabs your attention. On Page 2, Mister Miracle dies. Yep, really. You can either believe he was deeply depressed, or that he was infected by Darkseid’s Anti-Life Equation, or just that the greatest ever escape artist wanted to try and cheat the greatest trap of all, death. All those answers could be right, or wrong. Tom King never really tells us. He tells his story, and it is your job, as the reader, to pay attention. Scott is seemingly found and saved, but the way the narrative plays out makes you wonder. Is he still in a coma, and imagining all this? Is he really dead, and in some form of afterlife? or did he really survive? Whatever the answer, something is very wrong with him. He forgets things, people who are really dead seem alive to him, and what he thinks is real nobody else seems to.

All this plays out against a very grim and violent war between New Genesis and Apokolips, between Highfather, another major casualty early on, and Darkseid himself. King deliberately blurs the lines here, the New Gods not being quite as pure and good as depicted in the past. Sure, Darkseid is still pure evil, think Thanos on steroids, but are bad actions by good people justified if they win? Morality is a theme that runs through this book. Was Granny Goodness all bad, for example? Sure, she tortured children, including Big Barda and Scott himself, but Scott remembers some moments of kindness she showed him, although perhaps he has a very narrow definition of ‘kindness’. Another huge theme, perhaps the most important one, is that of identity.

King adds depth of character to many heroes and villains that have previously perhaps been treated a little too reverentially in the past. A major part of the Apokolips/ New Genesis history involves the treaty whereby Darkseid gave his son Orion to Highfather, and Highfather gave his son Scott to Darkseid, in a sort of medieval royal pact. While Orion was brought up with kindness and devotion, Scott reveals he was never even named by either Highfather or Darkseid. Scott Free , one of Kirby’s legendary play on word names, is given a far more sinister feel here as King reveals it was a derogatory nickname given to him by Granny Goodness as he was forever trying to escape. Even his costumed identity, Mister Miracle, was taken from another person. Scott’s deep personal unhappiness comes from his identity, or lack of one. Orion is also a little mixed up, forever wrestling with New Genesis morality and Apokoliptian violence.

A lot of people die in this book, though never just for gratuitous reasons, and many momentous things happen to Miracle, such as Scott being sentenced to death by Orion, then made Highfather, becoming a father (twice), and the final end of Darkseid himself. All of which, of course, may be happening, but all of which also screams of Scott’s wish fulfillment too, indicating things may not be what they seem. Tom King combines an amazing amount of human drama, DC Universe mythology, widescreen mass battles, political intrigue, and psychological deconstruction to incredible effect. Very few mainstream comics have combined these things quite so well, and I doubt many will in the future. It requires a grasp of the big and small details of a story, of the obvious and less so, of the psychological as well as the physical. Scott’s not a pure hero, but he’s the hero of his own story. A distinction not all writers can make.

Although Tom King’s work here is nothing short of incredible, as much praise needs to be laid at the feet of Mitch Gerads. Although he modestly claims he just follows the very detailed scripts of King, his use of the nine panel page is just pure magic. The dialogue works so well, especially the ‘banter’ between Barda and Scott, because of the pace it is given by the art, by the feeling of motion, of action, of movement. You read at the pace dictated by the art, and that is something that raises the book even more. You couldn’t find more perfect art for this story.

I could sit here all day and write a list of everything good about this book, but let’s just say that I review a lot of very good books, and this beats every one. This is one of those books that transcends ‘just’ comic books, and sits in a loftier perch with other worthies. This is not a comic book story, this is a story told using the medium of comic books. If Tom King writes nothing else, he has left behind an incredible artistic legacy. Mitch Gerads’ contribution is not too shabby either.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this book is that it is a book filled with New Gods, both good and bad, but it is ultimately the emotion and humanity of the characters that shines the brightest. Like us all, Scott is just trying his best to be a good person. That, not any powers or godlike ability, is what makes Scott Free, Mister Miracle, a hero.

Tom King and Mitch Gerads knew that. And now, so do we.

***** 5/5

Mister Miracle: The Complete Series is released on February 19th

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