One of DC’s best comics in years.
DC Comics have delivered a must-read comic book masterpiece about life, death, and Darkseid, and it’s called Mister Miracle.
It’s a fascinating story featuring one of DC’s lesser known heroes, told by writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads, who you may know from their incredible work together on those sexy Catwoman issues of Batman. Mister Miracle isn’t your typical comic book. It works on multiple levels — as a superhero war story, an existential commentary, and as a reflection on the comics icon who created the character, Jack Kirby. It’s these layers that give it a dizzying amount of depth and combine to tell a shocking and profound story that is, without question, one of the best comics in years.
If you don’t know who Mister Miracle is, worry not, the newly released trade includes a primer on everything you need to know. Or so I hear… I haven’t been able to open the one DC sent me.
On a basic level, the comic follows superhero escape artist Mister Miracle, civilian name Scott Free, as he tries to live a relatively normal life with his wife and fellow hero Big Barda, but he gets sucked into the endless war that has long plagued his home planet of New Genesis. His people are in direct opposition to the ruler of Apokolips — him, you’ve heard of: Darkseid.
Scott may be a smiling hero who uses his superhuman powers to escape any trap, but there’s one thing he can’t escape: the trauma of his past. You see, as part of a peace treaty between New Genesis and Apokolips, the leaders of both planets exchanged their sons. Being the son of the almighty Highfather, baby Scott was handed over to Darkseid, who is pretty much the devil, and was forced to grow up surrounded by fire, monsters, and cruelty. Though he eventually fled from Apokolips with Big Barda and they became superheroes on Earth, the series shows that Scott never escaped the pain of growing up in such a hostile and abusive environment. He’s wracked with PTSD, but given that his first instinct is always to escape, he’s never truly addressed it in a healthy manner, which causes an incident at the onset of the series that Scott must grapple with throughout the story.
(This is where we should caution readers that Mister Miracle contains graphic imagery and depictions of self-harm, and if you or anyone you know may need help please don’t hesitate to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.)
Whereas a lot of superhero stories focus on the superpowered action and then move on to the next big battle without checking in on the mental state of the heroes, this comic slows down to explore what enduring such harsh trauma does to a person. Mister Miracle may be a god, but that doesn’t stop him from developing severe depression and crippling anxiety and questioning the nature of his purpose in life. King and Gerards depict Scott’s very serious and very real struggles with a maturity and grace only seen on rare occasion from the Big Two. They do it using the meticulous nine-panel grid made famous in DC’s lauded classic, Watchmen. And much like Watchmen, this story uses nuance, metaphor, and stark visuals to tell a sophisticated superhero story unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
Mister Miracle finds Scott in the middle of an existential crisis, and the way Gerads depicts this is one of its most praised — and debated — aspects. As you’re reading the story, you’ll start to notice a few things aren’t quite right. Some panels are covered in static, others have strips of scotch tape over them, and quite a few are pitch black except for the ominous words, “Darkseid is.” King has said these visual quirks are red flags to the reader that something is amiss with Scott’s reality — Is it a dream? Some sort of illusion? Is Scott even alive? — but what it truly means comes down to how you personally interpret the story. In a genre where every last hero, power, and plot is catalogued on the internet, the creative team offers the audience something special because their story is not only undefinable but wholly unique to everyone who reads it.
Taking a more experimental storytelling approach isn’t unheard of, but it’s also not standard superhero fare. It’s more akin to what Grant Morrison and Dave McKean did in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, another DC classic, where the stylized, mixed-media art made what could have been a standard trip to Gotham’s madhouse into a groundbreaking psychological fever dream. While Mister Miracle has a decidedly different approach — not to mention it handles mental health issues with the sensitivity they deserve — the end result is no less effective in enveloping the reader in its narrative.
Through the breakdown of reality comes another layer of Mister Miracle, one that pays homage to Jack Kirby, the King of Comics. The creative team starts and ends every issue with exuberant quotes from Kirby’s original Mister Miracle series from back in 1971. But these quotes are far more than lip service to the character’s creator. Like the static and tape, they’re indicators that something else is at play. But this element is far less sinister when you consider the shared bond between Kirby and King. In 1943, Kirby was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in World War II. After 9/11, King joined the CIA’s counterterrorism unit and served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both saw the horrors of war firsthand and put those experiences in their work. When Kirby created Mister Miracle in 1971, he essentially brought to life a hero who was part of a war without end. Now, with the release of this new rendition, King has come full circle to show the effects of living that life of violence.
For another must-read comic, check out why X-Men Red is the best X-Men story in years by watching the video below.
Joshua is Senior Editor of IGN Comics. If Pokemon, Green Lantern, or Game of Thrones are frequently used words in your vocabulary, you’ll want to follow him on Twitter @JoshuaYehl and IGN.