Best Shots Reviews: MISTER MIRACLE #5, RUNAWAYS #4

Marvel Comics December 2017 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Mister Miracle #5
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

“I can always escape.”

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Saga can be a dense work to parse through even for the most seasoned comics readers. That’s further evidenced by the general lack of success that many creators have had trying to play with that corner of the DCU, despite a few good takes here and there. But Tom King and Mitch Gerads have seemed to crack to code with Mister Miracle. This is a comic that would make the King proud. Not because they adhere to his grandiose sense of scale or imagination, but because as he may or may not have said himself, “Kid… comics will break your heart.”

When we join the story, Scott Free is dealing with having been sentenced to death, so he spends his last remaining day with Big Barda. That’s it. There’s not much to it. They hang out. They hook up. They get food. They talk the meaning of existence. They get stuck in traffic. And through it all, there’s a certain longing in King’s script. Two people facing down the end of their world. No, the fate of humanity isn’t at stake, but instead their own personal reality. They’re each other’s everything, and it’s evident in every interaction. This is a comic full of perfect small moments. King echoes the structure of previous issues and through his devotion to the nine panel grid, we feel these moments slipping away from the two of them. It’s crushing.?

Mitch Gerads deserves all the credit because as good as the script is, it wouldn’t work without this artwork. Gerads’ semi-realistic but impressionist approach to the book sells the emotions in the script through and through. It’s not just that we get to see these moments, but it’s the way they are communicated to us — Gerads’ shot selection expertly paces these pages so that you intuitively know the speed of the scenes. It’s instinctual, communicated only through the art and lettering, but it allows the story to play just right. Gerads never treats comics’ static layout as an impediment, but uses it as the foundation to be more inventive when possible throughout the story.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Mister Miracle is the best superhero comic on the stands. It’s consistently been one of the best of the year, and it should cement King and Gerads as one of the all-time great duos in comics. This uniquely human take on one of the most epic sci-fi sagas of all time actually elevates these characters, making them relatable and real through the smallest moments. This is a comic about being in love with your best friend, standing at the edge of the world and bracing yourself for what happens next. Because you can always escape as long as you have each other and you’re willing to do the work. It’s probably not the message you’d expect from a superhero comic, but here it is, reminding us why these modern mythologies have stood the test of time.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Runaways #4
Written by Rainbow Rowell
Art by Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Some comics run on punching. Or universe-spanning crises. Or deaths and resurrections and revamps and relaunches and revelations.

Meanwhile, Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s Runaways runs on grilled cheese and tomato soup.

And honestly, that series is about as satisfying as that delicious winter dinner combination — sure, this book has its share of soap operatics, but ultimately, this comic delivers us some choicely rendered comic book comfort food. With some stirring characterization buoyed by some truly gorgeous artwork, Runaways #4 brings together the last of these teenage heroes with a warmth and care that shouldn’t be missed.

What’s perhaps the biggest curveball about this issue is that while Rowell has been building up to a reunion with superstrong Molly Hayes, this issue is actually more about the return of Victor Mancha, who was a poignant casualty of Tom King’s astounding Vision series. And what’s heartening is just how much Rowell clearly gets Victor’s character — “You’ve heard of Pinocchio? Well, Victor Mancha is Pinocchio in reverse.” With just one splash page and an ominous caption later in the book, Rowell is able to take King’s depressive streak and turn Victor’s descent into a very teenage existential crisis. Rowell’s characters each have their own problems with their direction in life — perhaps a meta-commentary on the Runaways as a franchise over the years — and having Victor essentially be consumed by guilt and barely be able to reach out for help is a wonderful twist.

It also helps that Rowell’s able to balance this sadness with the joy of Molly Hayes, who is clearly infectious for the cast around her. Nico and Chase might be wrestling with the aftermath of their decisions, while Gert is flailing around in a world that’s left her behind, but Molly is clearly the glue that brings the team together, even as like Karolina Dean she’s more than moved past the stress and drama of being teen runaways. While most fans might recognize there’s something a little darker underneath the surface with Molly’s living situation — my grandparents were understanding, but there’s understanding and then there’s understanding that a dinosaur is in your living room — but you can’t help but smile when you see the team back together again, playing card games and eating popcorn just like any other kid might do.

And so much of this charm comes from artist Kris Anka and colorist Matthew Wilson. While I’ve said in the past that Rowell has occasionally had some pacing issues that Anka has had to accommodate for, they are working really in sync four issues in. Anka sells a lot of the comedy that Rowell is playing with, from the incredulous look on Victor’s face as his cybernetic head is strapped to Chase’s backpack to the over-the-moon happiness on Molly’s face as she’s licked by Old Lace, and like I said before, I want whatever grilled cheese Molly’s grandma is making, because the looks on those kids’ faces say everything that Rowell couldn’t. There’s also a lot of great subtle storytelling moments here, like Nico talking to a cat with a crescent moon over its eye that evokes the Staff of One, or a small inset panel where Molly’s grandmother is a little bit more than she seems. Wilson’s colors, meanwhile, are pitch-perfect here — so much of this book’s tone rests on his warm and inviting colors, and given how much the Runaways have been through to get here, the team can take all the happiness it can get.

Ultimately, Rowell’s history as a novelist has served her very well in her jump to comics, as she realizes that characterization will trump plot progression any day of the week — and honestly, a carefree afternoon with the Runaways is a lot more fun than most galaxy-destroying space wars that most other comics can provide. Combined with the incredible production values from Anka and Wilson, and Runaways is certainly the best Marvel comic of the week.

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