Kirby Is (Almost) Here! : “Mister Miracle” (2017) #1

Posted: August 12, 2017 in comics
Tags: , , , , ,

Before I even started writing this review, I felt a bit boxed in — and it’s my own damn fault.

Allow me to explain : if I’d reviewed the first issue of Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ new Mister Miracle 12-part “maxi-series” from DC the day it came out, I could’ve written a positive review — which I still intend to do and which this book absolutely deserves — and that would’ve been fine. But I didn’t have or carve out the time, and now a review that’s merely “good” is going to look, well, kinda bad.

That’s because in the interim between Wednesday and now, other critics have weighed in with some of the most embarrassingly gushing praise you’re ever likely to see — we’ve been told that Mister Miracle #1 is “a leap forward for the medium” (it’s not), that it “revolutionizes comics” (it doesn’t), that it’s “the best single issue of the year” (in a year that’s already seen the first new Gary Panter comic in forever, the epic conclusion to Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence, and the best installment to date of Sammy Harkham’s Crickets? Please), that it “will blow your mind” (it won’t).

I have no desire to “keep up with the Joneses,” though, and I’ll always call it like I see it — so to hell with how it looks in comparison to everything else out there; in my (considered, I assure you) view, this is “merely” a very good comic — and if that’s not good enough, shit, I can’t help that.

Essentially, what King and Gerads have done here is “port over” the storytelling tropes that they so successfully established in their earlier Vertigo series The Sheriff Of Babylon into a super-hero setting by way of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (an influence so obvious that even CBR saw it —and keep in mind that their review completely missed that this issue’s opening and closing lines, which they chalk up to generic “carnival barking,” were directly lifted from Jack Kirby’s original Mister Miracle #1), and it works. In fact, it works quite well. But it doesn’t take much to see the scaffolding holding this structure together — and that may, in fact, be part of the point, perhaps even a bit of homage.

That’s because Scott Free, a.k.a. Mister Miracle, in addition to being the “Christ figure” of Kirby’s Fourth World opus (a fact made clear in both Nick Derington’s “A” cover and Gerads’ “B” cover for this book), is, of course, “the world’s greatest escape artist,” and a big part of the charm of his first series came from the explanations for his various death-defying acts that Kirby frequently provided. Here, I believe, the explanations are being provided for us, as well — although we might have to work a little harder to find them.

To dovetail back to Mulholland Drive for a moment, King’s deliciously clever script reverses the order of events somewhat — we open, rather than close, with the protagonist’s suicide attempt (as you can see from the double-page splash reproduced above, Scott has slashed his wrists) — but the core conceit of determining what is “real” and what isn’t, as well as how what is informs and/or “bleeds into” what’s not, remains, and Gerads provides any number of  visual cues, both subtle and less so, to assist us humble readers in that task of decoding.

Watchmen-esque nine-panel grids, for instance, are the norm here, but they are deviated from at key points, such as the childhood reminiscence shown immediately above (the joke at the end of which comes into play later), and “dissolve” into distorted “fuzzy TV” images as events appear to deviate further from (fictitious, mind you) reality, such as when Scott makes his first media appearance after his suicide attempt — on a talk show hosted by Dakseid’s chief propagandist Glorious Godfrey?

Speaking of Darkseid, his presence looms large despite it being merely a verbal incantation. The chilling two-word phrase “Darkseid is.” fulfills the same role as “Bang.” in The Sheriff Of Babylon, interjecting itself with greater and greater frequency through any number of scenes (Orion giving Scott a beat-down, the aforementioned talk-show appearance, working out a new escape routine with friend/mentor Oberon — except he’s apparently dead?), until it finally takes up an entire page just before Scott and his wife, Big Barda, step into a “Boom Tube” to join the war that’s underway on their adopted homeworld of New Genesis. It’s chillingly effective, but the idea that it’s some new storytelling innovation, as has been breathlessly claimed by many, is patented nonsense.

Beyond that, little hints that something isn’t right — or, at the very least, that something isn’t right in how Scott is seeing or interpreting things — abound : as mentioned, he works out a new trick with Oberon, but Oberon’s dead; Barda’s eyes are the wrong color; Scott’s walk on the beach with Highfather reveals a more chilly and distant relationship than we’ve seen between the two of them previously; Highfather’s later death (whoops! Spoilers!) and Darkseid’s discovery of the “anti-life equation” he’s dedicated his entire life to seeking out are mentioned in a nearly carefree, throw-away manner — what’s actually happening is anyone’s guess, but that’s rather the point.

If easy answers are your bag, then, it’s safe to say that King and Gerads’ Mister Miracle won’t be. But if you’re willing to invest at least a modest amount of time and mental energy into piecing together how much of this is actually taking place (or already took place), how much is near-death fever dream, how much is pure fantasy, and how much may be outside manipulation courtesy of Darkseid, then you’re in for a heck of a ride here. Gerads handles pencils, inks, and colors on the book, ensuring that all aspects of the various illustrated cues n’ clues remain firmly under his control, and he and King, probably by dint of their previous experience together, achieve the sort of seamless storytelling finesse that one usually only finds in comics both written and drawn by the same person. As events progress the insular visual language that they’ve developed will begin to make more concrete “sense,” I’m sure, but for now, trying to puzzle it all out is, dare I invoke the term in relation to a book this heavy, a great deal of fun.

No doubt, then, I’m damn eager to see where this series goes. I may not find it to be the singular and groundbreaking achievement that so many others apparently do, but I find it to be both an intelligently-crafted mystery, an interesting new take on an established set of characters (something which I think Kirby himself would appreciate far more than the dull, surface-level retreads of his work that so many other Fourth World -related revivals have been), a heartfelt exploration of mental illness, specifically depression, and, at the margins, an ingenious metafictional treatise on  its protagonist’s creator (“kid — comics will break your heart” hangs heavy over the proceedings) that even seems to establish him as a God-like, omniscient observer of all that’s happening. So no, Mister Miracle #1 isn’t the best single issue of the year — but it may very well be the best single issue that either of “The Big Two” has put out in a number of years. Is that good enough?

 

Comments
  1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru) says:

    Reblogged this on Through the Shattered Lens.

  2. Victor De Leon says:

    gonna check this out. looks pretty dope. never really read any mister miracle books that I can remember.

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