Written by Tom King; art by Mitch Gerads and Clayton Cowles; published by DC Comics
By J Bardyla
Decades ago, two races of New Gods—one good and the other darkest evil—made a pact to bring peace to their planets. The sons of each world’s leader would be exchanged and each would grow up in a much different culture than the one on their homeworld. So, the man who would become Mister Miracle, Scott Free, was taken from his utopian home on New Genesis and the son of Apokolips’ ruler left that world’s hellish cityscapes behind.
Scott’s caretakers immediately set out to break him, as everyone on Apokolips has been. But every horror his captors inflict upon Scott can not extinguish the light within him. A life of torture teaches Scott the skills of evasion and escape, which he will eventually perfect.
In time Scott escapes Apokolips and makes his way to earth, where he adopts the name Mister Miracle and gains a reputation as the world’s greatest escape artist—take that, Batman! Along the way he falls in love with, then marries, another refugee from Apokolips, the mighty warrior Big Barda.
Now Scott has it all: a home, family and friends, fame, fortune, and success. But something is still missing, something that may lead him to his greatest feat yet.
Can the universe’s greatest escape artist escape death itself?
From time to time, a creator comes along with a story to challenge the repetitive qualities of the traditional superhero narrative and show us a side of our heroes we don’t often consider. Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles’ 2018 Mister Miracle series was one of them. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters were created in the ’70s, but Mister Miracle’s latest creative team uses those characters to explore and examine emotional plights in the modern era. The toll superheroics takes on people (or characters, should you choose to maintain your distance) rarely occurs to the genre’s readers. When they do, depression is not at the top of the audience’s concerns.
That isn’t the case for Tom King. In a February, 2019 Newsarama.com interview, he revealed that Mister Miracle’s story served as an outlet, helping him cope with his own personal darkness. Expressing personal trauma through art, or even comic books, is not in itself revolutionary. Doing so while serving the needs of a mainstream entertainment magazine is uncommon, and a very tricky needle to thread. With Mister Miracle, King takes the audience on a tumultuous emotional journey but offers few answers to the questions the story asks.
Joining King on Mister Miracle’s journey is his frequent collaborator, the award-winning artist, Mitch Gerads. For the bulk of the story, Gerads works within a traditional nine-panel page, tactically employing clever narrative sleight-of-hand bits and disruptive visuals to keep the reader’s attention. The result is a reprieve from the current comic industry’s endless full-bleed splash pages. Gerads’ work encourages participation, rewarding readers who take a little extra time to experience the significant weight the art adds to the tale.
Originally published as a 12-issue miniseries, and now collected in a single trade paperback volume, Mister Miracle runs the gamut of real-world emotions, from small joys to heart-wrenching despair. While few of us will ever lead interplanetary armies in a cosmic war, managing a healthy work/life balance is hardly an esoteric problem.
If there’s one justified complaint about this book, it’s that the resolution of the hero’s dilemma isn’t perfectly clear. What do you do when you ‘have it all’ and still find yourself in some way empty, unable to feel joy or accomplishment? There isn’t a single answer but seeing someone else, even a fictional character, face that challenge could help another person through their own hard times. Mister Miracle ultimately doesn’t answer its central question, at least not directly. But simply asking it turns what in lesser hands could have been a simple superhero comic into a thought-provoking experience, elevating it to a level its cape-and-tights-wearing brethren rarely achieve, or even aspire to.
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