Mister Miracle #1
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Throughout the debut issue of Mister Miracle, the new 12-issue limited series from superstar team Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Clayton Cowles, two words recur:
Those words, colored white and in contrast to a stark black background are bone-chilling at best, truly harrowing at worst. As the issue progresses, they become more defining on the page, darting around a nine-panel grid, slowly, but surely occupying more and more panels. It’s a testament to exactly how good Clayton Cowles is as a letterer that these words alone are enough to invoke a sense of feeling trapped.
That sense gets to the heart of what Mister Miracle is about. Just over a year ago, Tom King found himself in the emergency room following a panic attack, and it was enough for him to feel like a stranger to the world upon his return, just weird enough to throw everything out of balance. Right now, it’s hard not to feel some confusion about the state of the world and it doesn’t even require being politically-attuned to feel that way; see the insanity that was Fyre Festival or the modern day Zapruder film that was the Best Picture announcement at the 2017 Oscars.
Mister Miracle might be a New God, - an analogue for Jesus, given to the Devil (Darkseid) instead of us - one of Kirby’s classic creations and part of his "Fourth World" saga, but King’s take on the character, a master escape artist trapped by the trauma of his childhood and of reality, invokes a mood and milieu of anxiety that hits closer to home than overt political allegory could.
Part of the Tom King oeuvre, closer to the "Best Intentions" trilogy (The Omega Men, The Sheriff of Babylon and The Vision) than it is Batman, Mister Miracle is a book with a sense of tragedy, nine-panel grids and dialogue that feels more lyrical than it does repetitive. Like King’s earlier work, he and Gerads establish a grim mood early. Their opening scene is a splash page of Mister Miracle (a.k.a. Scott Free) staring directly ahead and they follow this with a two-page spread which reveals he’s on the bathroom floor with pieces of his costume strewn about the room, his wrists extended out in front of him, a razor just beyond them and a pool of blood forming. This is Scott seeing if he can escape death, the way that’s he decided to up the ante as an escape artist.
To say that this issue is about the aftermath of Scott’s attempt is appropriate, but there’s so much more going on: layers to be peeled back which reveal deeper reasoning for earlier narrative choices and recontextualize those previous scenes. One such layer involves Scott. In that opening scene, a thousand-yard stare adorns his face and it remains during his time in the hospital. Through the repetition, this subtle emotion depicted by Gerads indicates this attempt to escape death is not solely defined by a desire to astound, but has deeper psychological and mental motivations that run counterpoint later to Scott’s explanation. This is just one example, but this and others come together in a deeply layered text, starting as an intimate character drama and growing into something so much bigger without losing that angle, highlighting how this series is self-contained, but sure to have lasting repercussions for the DC universe at large.
While the book may be titled Mister Miracle, King’s script involves a host of other characters, namely Big Barda, Scott’s wife. The pair don’t get a lot of time to themselves in this issue, but in the all-too brief moments that they share, their relationship feels both tangible and vulnerable. It’s evident through King’s dialogue and Gerads’ figurework that both show care and concern in equal measure to one another - Barda doing her best to help Scott ease back into the world at a pace that suits him and Scott grateful for this, while starting to realize the world he’s returned to is unlike the one he left.
Their relationship might be the heart of the book, but the one that makes up the soul is that of King and Gerads. Having worked together on Sheriff of Babylon and Batman, their collaborations produce incredible work and this is their best yet. They feel completely in control of the story they want to tell and how to do so. The way that King cuts from scene to scene without traditional transitions, like bridging them with dialogue, is possible because Gerads’ focus on the characters and general approach means there’s a grounding which allows them to jump locations, all the more impressive because Gerads does this while working with a nine-panel grid.
King’s minimalist script is only enhanced by the subtleties of the art. Some artists might see the nine-panel grid as reason to skimp on detail, but Gerads is sure to pack every panel with emotion and clean visual storytelling. An early scene sees Scott, Barda and Orion square up against one another and while King’s dialogue creates a battle of words, Gerads’ blocking of the characters demonstrates who’s winning the argument purely from how they’re standing compared to the other and the angle chosen to show this. All of this has been said without mentioning his textured colors which enhance the book, making it an even richer experience. Looking at the familiar costumes, you’ll recognise the color schemes - the red, green and yellow of Mister Miracle - set by Kirby, but looking closer they’re more muted, thanks to the appropriate level of grit brought by Gerads.
This isn’t a drastic reinvention of the characters, but instead a take that keeps where they came from in mind and ambitiously considering where they could go. While a serious tale, the story avoids feeling dour thanks to the care that Scott and Barda have for one another and that King, Gerads and Cowles have for them, imbuing the book with a humanistic compassion, which in addition to confronting the world of today would surely make Kirby proud. The most daring and strongest debut to come from the Big Two since The Vision, this series come from a creative team already working at peak efficiency, which means Scott Free’s adventures might be even better than those of that doomed suburban synthezoid family. The creative team might be anxious about where the world is heading - that sentiment is distilled into every facet of the story - but they’ve taken that apprehension and a desire to interrogate it and poured it into a fantastical and contemporary tale, one with a confidence that feels excitingly era-defining.