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Comic Review: “Mister Miracle” by Tom King

Mister Miracle was a 12-issue limited series written by Tom King, illustrated by Mitch Gerads, and published monthly by DC Comics. The final issue of the limited series was released on November 14th. Tom King and Mitch Gerads both won Eisner Awards, the highest award offered in the comics industry, for their work on this series. The pair previously worked on The Sheriff of Babylon, a 12-issue series published under Dc’s adult-oriented Vertigo imprint.

The story of Mister Miracle follows an American police officer-turned military consultant as he attempts to solve the murder of one of his Iraqi police trainees in war-torn Baghdad in 2004. The series was based off of King’s own experiences in the Iraq war as a CIA officer. King also won the 2017 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series for his Vision miniseries.

Mister Miracle was originally created in 1971 by comic book giant Jack Kirby, known for helping to create characters for Marvel such as Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk. Mister Miracle was a part of Kirby’s famous Fourth World saga, a story that followed the exploits of the New Gods, who hailed from the technologically advanced planets of New Genesis and Apokolips.

After a millenium of warfare, Highfather, the God of Life and ruler of New Genesis, and Darkseid, the God of Anti-Life and ruler of Apokolips, agreed to a truce. Each god exchanged one of their sons in a show of good faith to support their pact to end the war. Scott Free, son of Highfather, was sent to Apokolips where he was thrown into the slave pits and subjected to decades of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the diabolical Granny Goodness, who called the slave pits her “orphanage.” Darkseid gave his son, Orion, to Highfather where he would live a life of bliss and comfort on New Genesis.

After the decades in Apokolips, Scott Free escaped the slave pits along with the love of his life, the 7-foot tall leader of Darkseid’s all-female death squad, Big Barda. The lovers fled to Earth where they joined the Justice League and lived lives as superheroes. Scott Free also took the stage-name Mister Miracle and became known as “The World’s Greatest Escape Artist.”

King and Gerad open Mister Miracle with the titular character being taken out of the hospital by his wife, Big Barda, after having attempted to commit suicide. The explanation Scott gives is that he’s an escape artist. The greatest trick of all is escaping death. Immediately after returning home, the pair of them find Scott’s brother Orion who informs them that war has begun again. Highfather has been killed and Darkseid has the Anti-Life equation, which gives him the power to infect and dominate his enemies’ minds, making them believe that their lives are worthless and they willingly submit to Darkseid’s control. Orion informs Mister Miracle and Big Barda that they are to return to New Genesis to fight in the war to save the universe.

However, King isn’t interested in epic space battles. He wants to show these characters as broken, depressed, and utterly human. Mister Miracle is constantly getting flashes of his dead friends. Reality seems to fizzle like a staticy TV, and the panels of action are occasionally broken up by an all-black panel that simply reads “Darkseid Is.”

As the reader, you’re never entirely sure if this is Darkseid and the Anti-Life equation invading Mister Miracles’ mind, or if Scott has just finally snapped after years of abuse. Mister Miracle is essentially the Jesus of the DC universe where he’s the son of God (Highfather) and was traded to the devil (Darkseid) to make peace between the heaven and hell. He was raised by the devil and tortured his entire childhood and even when he finally escapes that torture, he would have lingering pains from a childhood spent in torture chambers and from the pain of being sold by your father into those chambers.

Scott needs an outlet for this pain and manifested itself in the shape of an attempted suicide. Much of the book is devoted to mundane activities like grocery shopping, getting angry at the traffic, and, essentially to the narrative, having a child. Scott is desperately trying to escape his brutal past and create a new, quiet life for himself and his family on Earth. He has no interest in fighting some cosmic war.

The dialogue is quick and snappy and gives the book a little bit of a distant feel, like how someone’s voice sounds underwater. Perfect for story where your main character is depressed and suffering from psychosis, unhinged from reality. It waxes philosophical but the words are brimming with anxiety about their own possible meanings. This makes sense when you consider that Tom King said one of his main sources of inspiration was a panic attack he suffered in 2016. One of my favorite moments in the series sees Scott question the existence of everything by attacking Descartes’ famous “I think therefore I am.”

Art by Mitch Gerads
Art by Mitch Gerads

 

As this example shows, the art is always in a three by three panel grid. This form deviates only six times in the entire 12 issues, first in a scene at the end of the first issue where reality turns to static and Scott is no longer sure if the life he has been living is real or not. The comic never answers this question.

In the 11th issue, he is told “Where you are is not where you should be, Scott Free.” He was told he could wake up in the real world and give up the act. It forces the reader to question whether Scott actually succeeded in killing himself in the opening scene and has been in Hell this entire time. Perhaps that’s why he is constantly miserable, forced to fight and be tortured forever. Maybe in hearing this and choosing to ignore it, Scott has given up trying to escape. However, it’s equally as possible that this is heaven and he decided not to escape it. After all, behind all the weariness and pain and doubt, this life that Scott has found is also filled with joy. He has a wife who loves him and a son who grabs his nose and laughs.

Or, maybe everyone is lying. Maybe Scott is still alive. I hope so, anyway. When Scott tried to kill himself he wasn’t trying to escape death, he was trying to escape life. By the end of the series we’re reading about someone who has completely given up a life of adventure and life-and-death stakes. All Scott wants the normalcy of two kids and a condo in LA with his seven-foot tall wife. This entire story has been one of Mister Miracle learning to escape past trauma and getting to a place where he can choose — actively choose — to leave behind the pain that defined his existence for decades in favor of happiness. I think that is beautiful. Also there is a scene where the biggest bad guy in all of comics double dips. It’s awesome.

 

Art by Mitch Gerads