“I can always escape.”
If you don’t know that much about the character of Mister Miracle, don’t worry. He’s not an A-Tier superhero in the DC Universe – god knows I’ve only seen him popping up here and there in different events. Created by Jack Kirby upon his move to DC Comics in the 1970s, Mister Miracle is Scott Free, a New God and son of the powerful Highfather of New Genesis. As part of a peace treaty with Apokolips, Scott was given away to be tortured and raised as the heir of Darkseid. After escaping that literal hellhole, Scott flees to earth and takes on the title of Mister Miracle, famous escape artist. This is all pretty cosmic, Fourth World, Kirby stuff – but it forms the background to this story, which is as far from cosmic as you can get.
King opens the story in a startling way. Scott has tried to take his own life, in an attempt to escape the highest stakes yet; death itself. At least, that’s how he sells it. The truth is that Mister Miracle is a heartbreaking story about depression, mental illness, and emptiness, and it cuts to core of these issues better than anything I’ve ever read. Across the 300 pages, King and Gerads deliver a confusing, emotional, and realistic look into the life of a man who has been crushed by the weight of an abusive childhood and the constant pressures put upon him as a “God”. Or, that’s one interpretation. I don’t think I’ve read something that seems so simple at first that ended up generating so many theories and interpretations in the days after I put it down.
Across the tale, the mundane is juxtaposed against the extraordinary. Scott and his wife Barda go about their lives in a small condo in Los Angeles, with all the tedium that can be expected, full of the banality that we all experience. Away from that, the war to end all wars is raging between New Genesis and Apokolips. Battles between billions of troops, fights between gods, the stake of two worlds. Mister Miracle explores how exactly someone can do both; a normal human being, and an all-powerful god. And a funny thing begins to happen, the battles and the aliens and the interstellar warfare becomes the tedious part of his life. Agreeing to terms of surrender is just as annoying as going to get a veggie plate for guests. One-on-one gladiatorial combat is just another chore, alongside getting nappies and fixing the broken remote. It’s such a thrillingly original look at the cosmic side of the DC Universe, something that hasn’t got any easier to understand since it’s conception in the 70s.
But something is amiss. Is this the real world we’re seeing? It’s unclear. Some clues suggest that we’re witnessing a sort of limbo, outside of the main DC continuity. Or perhaps Scott is in limbo, between heaven or hell. Or just maybe he’s still bleeding out on the bathroom tiles back on page one. King never gives you the answer, but you have plenty to work with. The biggest clue that something is wrong is through Gerads’ art. The panels are split into the 3×3 grid on every page (except two or three big splash pages) and resemble a cage. On top of that, there are frequent glitches and distortions in the art that make it look like we’re witnessing the events unfolding on an old CRT monitor. These moments of distortion seem to come at random at first, and again it’s up to you to decide what to make of them. But it’s clear that Scott and Barda’s world is not the usual DC Universe.
Things remain up for debate, right until the final panels. Is he in heaven? Hell? Purgatory? Is he suffering the effects of the Anti-Life Equation? Whatever it is, he’s deciding to stay put. This goes against everything we know about superheroes – surely he’d want to escape? But this goes back to the themes of depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. Sometimes it’s better to just find a space you feel okay in and stay put. Scott doesn’t need to escape, for once in his life, because he’s doing fine. Not brilliant – just fine. He still has problems, but he’s taking it one day at a time. His wife is supporting him and his children are giving him a reason to push on. Who cares if it’s real? Maybe it is!
On top of that, there is the meta interpretation to consider. In this world – whatever it is – Scott escapes his life of rebooted continuity and crises world-ending threats. Comics are confusing, with things that are canon one day suddenly being considered out of canon the next. In Mister Miracle, Scott escapes that. In one particularly meta moment, he gets a glimpse of the wider DCU, a choice to escape and return to the world of Batman, Superman, the Justice League etc. But he seemingly turns it down. His perfect world exists somewhere all alone, where things won’t change and where things make sense – even if they are a little hum-drum. In a time when getting into comics can seem impossible with the many different universes and canons, and as a huge fan of self-contained comic book stories, I don’t blame Scott for staying put in a simpler continuity.
Mister Miracle is a love letter to the weird and wonderful Fourth World that Jack Kirby created, as much as it’s a testament to the great man’s talents. By stripping away the over-the-top and grandiose elements of the cosmic world, King and Gerads have created one of the greatest DC stories I’ve read. On top of that, it’s an excellent look at the realities of depression and mental illness that I think the world needs. I certainly needed it. Things don’t always end up perfect, but if you can create yourself an environment where you’re happy and can survive each day, you’re doing fine.
Don’t look at the cover and think, “I don’t know that guy”. If you’re even a little interested in comics – hell, even if you’re not – please give it a shot. Mister Miracle is difficult and genuinely baffling at times. But it’s also as close to perfection as any comic I’ve ever read.