DC Comics has been absolutely killing it with their Jack Kirby tributes this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the King of Comics’ birth. Not every project has been stellar, of course, but most have been bold in their own ways and all of them have displayed obvious love for the endlessly creative Kirby. And none get off to a more auspicious and brilliant beginning as Mister Miracle #1, written by Tom King with art by Mitch Gerads. Put simply, this is a brilliant and instantly compelling debut issue for Kirby’s legendary master escape artist/neo-Jesus analogue, one that sees Scott Free embark upon his greatest challenge while questioning his own grasp on reality itself.
In tone and ambition, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that DC said to Tom King, “Hey, remember that critically acclaimed and utterly amazing “Vision” series you did for Marvel that blew everyone’s mind? How about you do that for Mister Miracle?” Once again this is a bold and slightly surreal examination of the inner mind and thematic underpinnings of a long-standing second-tier character, one that is basically a god upon the Earth. Once again, the tone of the writing is foreboding and tense, even as it is incisive. And once agin, he’s paired with a terrific artistic collaborator in the form of Mitch Gerads.
Mister Miracle #1 open with Scott Free recovering from a serious act of self-harm, and over the course of the issue we see Scott attempt to put his life back together and find meaning after having exhausted every death-defying act he can think of. In the background throughout the entire tale is an oncoming storm, a literal universe-ending threat emanating from Scott’s surrogate father and tormentor Darkseid. But from the start, the reader is asked to question exactly how much what Scott is experiencing is truly what it seems. And if what Scott is going through isn’t strictly speaking “reality,” then the question becomes whether or not this trap is external or the product of his own troubled psyche? And in any case, does it really matter? Doesn’t he have to escape no matter what?
This 12-issue miniseries was written in the wake of King’s own recent crisis, in which a severe panic attack sent the writer and former CIA officer to the hospital. King’s experience with a sudden and severe moment of distress left him feeling the world on the other side of that incident was fundamentally different from the one from before the attack; it was absurd, surreal and constantly on the edge of tumbling into chaos. This realization coincided, of course, with recent events in the culture over the course of 2016 and 2017 that were about the dissolution of norms and stability. In an interview with Paste, King said about his intention with the series, “Kirby used a metaphor for his time, written in the late ‘60s early ‘70s when the world was going utterly insane. We’re going to use it as a metaphor for our time, the late 2010s, when once again the world is going insane. It’s almost like we’re holding up a mirror to that work, or internalizing it. We’re going step-in-step with him.”
From the start, King captures that elusive tone of the slightly off-kilter normalcy that he can evoke like no other. Scott’s world in this issue has a banal quality even as it never shakes the feeling that something is deeply wrong. A lot of that has to do with the structure of the issue itself. Apart from a few notable pages, the bulk of the issue is structured in six panel pages, which gives the issue a rhythm that allows for quick cuts and effective repetitions to establish a quick pace and a tense atmosphere. There’s is also a recurring element in the form of a repeated phrase, which pops up with increasing frequency throughout the issue, giving Mister Miracle #1 an effective and unsettling crescendo.
Mitch Gerads reunites with King (they created the brilliant “Sheriff of Babylon”), and his art is utterly superb throughout. I mentioned the grid structure that is utilized through most of the issue, and Gerads weaves an odd kind of magic in these sequences, one that grounds the issue in the realities of everyday life despite the fundamental, well, Kirby-ness of everything. There’s something startling about the panel that shows a distressed Barda in full costume agonizing over Scott in a ordinary ER waiting room, or the scene that has Orion boom tube into Scott and Barda’s everyday apartment. Whether it’s the disconcerting talk show interview Mister Miracle may or may not have done on a suspicious TV show, or Scott’s conversation with old buddy Oberon, Gerads constantly mines the banal for the oddest angles and little fantastic touches. The result is a book that never lets the reader fully relax into a confident place, thereby mirroring Scott’s mental state. It’s genuinely exhilarating work.
The first issue clearly takes place in the same universe as Superman and Batman’s adventures, but King and Gerads’ work also evokes the early days of Vertigo, even the proto-Vertigo period of the 1980s, where Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” and Grant Morrison’s “Animal Man” existed alongside “Green Lantern.” King’s approach, like his take on the Vision for Marvel, is that this universe is big enough to support stranger, bolder, and altogether more challenging works that ask big questions and wonder about the merits of fleeing from a reality that disturbs and disorients on a daily basis. By the end of Mister Miracle #1, you’ll be invigorated at its possibilities. And even if the tone and style of the issue doesn’t remind one of the great Jack Kirby, the vision and boldness and brilliance certainly will. 10/10