Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kirby Day - Let's Talk Too Much about Mister Miracle

I guess today is the 19th Anniversary of Jack Kirby's passing.

I've attached an image of a cover to an issue of Mister Miracle, a comic I've alluded to over the years, and which I hold close to my heart.  If you've never read the Kirby Fourth World material, I can only tell you: man, you are missing out on one wild ride.

Of course, mostly, we talk about the Man of Steel around here, but as a concept, ideal and character, the themes of Superman's mythology differ greatly from those of anything else in the Fourth World books, and especially Mister Miracle, an interesting conundrum when Kirby originated so much of the Fourth World while including Superman and using metropolis as a backdrop.  If the underlying theme of Superman, as a character and mythology, exemplifies using the gifts bestowed upon you for the betterment of the world, Mister Miracle is the hope for escape from the seemingly inescapable and an avatar for the promise of freedom - especially by one's own hand.  Whether it's the X-Pit or a runaway rocketsled, Scott Free always, always lands on his feet with the manacles unlocked and the trap in splinters.

Whether I would have appreciated the series without having had first read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I can't say.  But I can say that, even as an adult - when I really began paying attention to Kirby, the idea that one can always get out of any situation - especially the white bread, solvable situations someone like myself finds themselves in - can be surprisingly inspiring.

Mister Miracle's desire to free himself, and those around him, from chains, both real and metaphorical, may be action packed, but it's also not about a jiu-jitsu chop to someone's face or throwing a Subaru at them.  He understands the trap, thinks his way through it, acts, and finds himself free and intact, and there's something to that.

The story in the comics goes:  The Lords of the evil planet Apocalypse and the goodly planet New Genesis sealed a truce by exchanging their first born sons.  The evil Darkseid accepted the son of the goodly Highfather, and immediately abandoned his charge to the crushing orphanages of his slave planet, naming the child Scott Free, that he always suffer at hearing the sound of his name.  But Scott determined to escape, and despite an infinite number of failures, always getting closer and closer to freedom, one day he finally broke the final lock and escaped to Earth.

On Earth he met a circus performer, Thaddeus Brown (aka: Mister Miracle).  Brown passed and Free took over the colorful circus costume and became a performer by day and by night, eluded the forces of Darkseid that came to Earth again and again, refusing to let him go.  But... Mister Miracle always escapes in the end.

He's not Batman, planning how to break your bones seven different ways, but he does plan ahead, he relies on wits, intelligence and preparing by having the right tools he might need.  Perhaps there's a limitation to the number of stories that one can tell about a character who's primary focus is getting caught in the jaws of death only to frustrate the grim reaper once again, and everyone but Kirby has succeeded in showing how a workaday superhero treatment for the character runs out of steam quickly or seems just terribly misunderstood as a concept.

Within a few issues of the character's introduction we also got Big Barda, Scott Free's love and an escapee in her own right, and the mythological embodiment of what it means to shake off an old life and old expectations.

At times, Superman is my totem.  And other times, when the metaphorical walls seem to have sealed and the air seems to have been sucked from the room, sometimes you also need a bit of Mister Miracle in your day. I know I've been pretty happy to find myself occasionally standing alongside the wrecked rocketsled, dusting  myself off and looking for a good place to put the shackles for some other trick some other time.

The influence of Kirby is still echoing through the culture today, and if you don't believe me, check out the haul Marvel and Disney are making at the box office, and the certainty that if a JLA movie makes it to the box office, we'll all be seeing Darkseid as the premier villain.


Simon MacDonald said...

I think I became of fan of Mr. Miracle during the Bwah-haha Justice League era. Scott, Barda and Oberon were great. I haven't read many of the 4th world stories but I'm keeping my eye on any sales of Kirby's 4th world omnibi.

The League said...

I was a fan of that Miracle and Barda (in particular). But I guess I didn't feel like that version had the mythological components in place the same way Kirby brought them to the page. I really stumbled onto a cheap, black and white reprint of Mister Miracle comics in college, and that's kind of what triggered the interest.

Simon MacDonald said...

From what little I've read of the non JL Miracle/Barda I understand the tone is very different. Although I really loved that bit where Barda just wanted to be a suburban housewife and leave the super hero life behind.

The League said...

Yeah, I've read the entire run of the 80's-era series. It's an interesting experiment in 80's superhero comics as its set up not unlike a TV series. Parts of it work, parts of it don't. Her desire to be a suburban housewife is a stretch from the Kirby version, but it's still entertaining and makes some sense as a progression of the character. And, essentially, sets her up as the straight man to the occasional alien invasion, etc... showing up on her front door.

It seems you saw a lot more playing with format back then.

The League said...

In the 90's, by the way, DC took an abrupt about face and made a VERY grim'n'gritty New Gods series I have a hard time reading. But NOTHING was worse than the Jim Starlin "Fall of the New Gods" or "Death of the New Gods" or whatever DC put out there leading up to Final Crisis.

Simon MacDonald said...

Sure the 80's Barda was stretch but that's what made it so funny. I love the JL Annual #1 where the Joker shows up to ruin their BBQ.

I have read Death of the New Gods and it made me cry because it was so bad.

The League said...

I found all of those Mr. Miracle issues from the 80's in $1 bins. It took a while to find them all, but they aren't exactly expensive out there on the market.