Monday, January 22, 2018

Mister Miracle: an examination in progress

NOTE: I have been trying to make sense of and reconcile my feelings and thoughts about the current Mister Miracle series since it hit stands early this Summer.
I am nowhere near any sort of conclusion. In the meantime, here are some of my various points and ponderings on King and Gerads' masterwork in progress.
I will update this as I go along.

It's certainly no secret to anyone who shops in our store about just how much I love Jack Kirby.
One of my kids is named partly for the King.
Though it may seem heretical to dedicated Marvelites, I do believe The Fourth World to be Jack's greatest achievement. My favourite among the stories would be those of Scott Free, Mister Miracle.
These stories were bolder more dynamic and full of wonder and joy than the other Fourth World books and the thinking about how Mr Miracle would or did escape all those traps always captured my imagination.
Imagination, this is the place where The King lived. No one has ever had a bigger, wilder or more ambitious imagination. At the very least he was the major driving force behind comics in North America for over 50 yrs. Super Hero books wouldn't be what they are without him and all those Billion Dollar movies wouldn't even exist if not for Jack's fertile mind. He was/is the source of inspiration for countless artists and comics creators. Even the ones that don't realise it or directly pay tribute owe him a debt.
To quote Mark Evanier (Jack's longtime friend and assistant,
"when we reach the end/center of the universe it's gonna have Jack's signature."
And for my two cents, i think if we pierce the source wall you'll find Jack there at his drawing table smokin' a cigar and he'll ask ,"what took ya so long? didn't I show you the way?"

But I digress.....

Tom King and Mitch Gerads have done one of the best comics in recent history with
Sheriff of Babylon. It is a powerful observance of the complexities and casualties of the fall of Saddam in Iraq. It is a bleak, deeply wounding story that interweaves the lives of multiple people and describes the traumatic human cost of war/occupation/liberation. Graying all the edges and creating more questions than it answers.
This is appropriate and fascinating as a study of Geo-Politics, warfare, Post Traumatic Stress, religion, tribalism, capitalism. It reveals the ugly truth of our world. It scars you but it leaves you stronger and better for the experience.
There is a similar current running through the pages of Mister Miracle. It frames the lives of a group of individuals who have been at war for a long time. Some appear to be on the same side but their goals are not the same. Trust is fractured. Reality seems intangible and the title character wants nothing but to get away from it all. By any means.

The series is masterfully written and so skillfully illustrated that it is near impossible to find a flaw. It is it's own inescapable trap. I don't want to be there, damaged, disillusioned and wounded, wandering through Scott Free's life but I can't escape it ether.
Super Hero fiction is often some combination of parable and metaphor. Allegories and Mythologies built into four-color titans that give us the gods to believe in that suit the day. They occasionally dip into dark territory, dealing with all too human suffering, violence and abuse but they attempt to transcend this and posit a hopeful future.

The book is veering deeper into the uncomfortable, painful and unsettling. what I'd call  "Identity Crisis" territory.. Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis is without a doubt the best story written featuring the Justice League, it deals with trust, deception and a traumatic sexual assault. A very powerful  and adult story of value that raises many moral, ethical questions though i have always questioned it's appropriateness in context of the Justice League, the DC universe and within the boundaries of super hero fiction. I don't believe it is a super hero story. it is a story that happens to superheros but it does not contain the mythical, iconic type of morality play we'd expect and that they are meta-human adventures is entirely incidental.

Which echoes my feelings about Mr Miracle. This book could easily be a sequel to Sheriff of Babylon. It is a story about a soldier suffering from PTSD who tries to end his life.
The  supernatural aspect of the characters and their lives are rarely part of the happenings, aside from a few Boom Tubes here and there. Scott and Barda are trying to move on with their careers following Scott's unsuccessful attempt on his life. The bandages on his wrists are obvious but not addressed, he isn't dealing well with things, seems to have muddled things in his mind, he can't quite be sure if his wife's eyes have always been the color they are now, he doesn' remember appointments he made and he sombrely/nonchalantly flippantly jokes about suicide much to the anquish of those around...
Mister Miracle seems to be moving without any opf the trade mark joy that he perenially faces the world.....
he seems blank, hopeless and like he has no will of his own....

The opposite to life in the Fourth World mythos is the ANTI-LIFE equation. This is a word, a command, and ability to nullify free will with a thought.  Mr Miracle has rebelled against this concept throughout his life, of which the early days were spent on Darkseid's Apokalips until he and his future wife, Barda escaped to Earth.

"One of the things that always burned my wife, Louise, was Mister Miracle. Orion is the son of hell, raised in heaven, and is a total badass. But Mister Miracle is the son of heaven, sent to hell, and is such a mellow guy. How did he become such a mellow guy? I decided it that what is meant is that Scott Free discovered as a young guy that he has the Anti-Life Equation in him. He’s in a battle and he yells “Stop!” And everything stops: hearts, blood flow, everything. He killed a bunch of people to discover that he had that power. Because of that, he has to be a zen master to not release it again. And I like the idea that the Anti-Life Equation has been living under Darkseid’s nose all this time.” – Walt Simonson

Has Scott accessed the Anti-Life Equation, or has it infected him? Is he working for New Genesis or Apokalips or has he just checked out mentally? There are numerous unanswered questions in the story. Many are even unspoken as you see the concern from Scott's loved ones and from the confused way Mr Miracle himself is behaving.


As I read each successive issue i feel the overwhelming urge to escape,
to get away from this dark working.
it is taking me down roads with the characters and with myself that I don't really want to go down.
the questioning of your sanity, no longer be able to trust in your perceptions or the people around you, or even to trust the perceptions of those people,  losing the will to live,
the trauma that comes with a life of struggle and turmoil, abuse, violence, shock and terror.

Scott has always floated above this miasmic upbringing and life but his past and the effect on him is something he can't get away from.

The purpose and metaphoric meanings of Mr Miracle the principles have been adhered to although the joy and spectacle have been stripped away.
the darkest days of Houdini.....a gut punch that kills.
Scott is someone who has seen the horrors of war and wants out, eventully he beomes resigned to his fate/role and then returns to Apokalips to earn his freedom but it is never enough.
there is no escape from life...unless its into death..

The design is structured in a rigid militant way. The confined layouts, boxing Scott into a regimented 9 panels per page that give a sense of claustrophobic entrapment. They also allow us to pause while gathering our thoughts and a chance to focus on those quiet, somber, frighteningly still moments.
Leaving the characters and reader feeling alone, lost and without hope.

the tension builds with each panel, page and issue and as it gets closer to the end we're sure to be twisting and turning praying for Scott's escape and like hs great friend Oberon fearing the worst has already happened .Oberon's appearance also leave syou wonmderoing abou the state of Scott's mind.

Maybe we can't escape the dreadful drudgery of our lives but if anyone can it is the World's Greatest Escape Artist. There may be hope after all.

Six issues down, I can confidently say we have a legitimate classic on our hands. A high working of comics art that will leave all affected.

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