Review by Frank Plowright
Was there a comic more highly praised than Mister Miracle in 2017-2018? It won Eisner Awards for writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads, although King’s work on Batman also counted, and you’d be hard pressed to find a negative review anywhere.
Mister Miracle has a complicated heritage, raised as Scott Free on the hellish Apokalips, but citizen of Earth where alien technology enables him to perform death-defying feats of escapism. In a fragmented opening chapter we learn that despite his apparent health Mister Miracle may have killed himself, yet survived death, and that times have become even harder on Apokalips. Absolute ruler Darkseid has discovered the Anti-Life Equation, something he’s sought for centuries, and now is. We know he is because repeated panels interrupt the early chapters stating this.
That’s among a number of devices King applies to his storytelling to constantly distract us from the mundane reality we’re reading. The day before an execution to which he willingly intends to submit, Mister Miracle picks apart philosophy with his wife as sounding board. This is after Orion acts as judge and prosecutor while applying false logic to connected statements, resulting in that decision. Mysteries abound. Why is Darkseid? Why does Mister Miracle wear a succession of Justice League t-shirts when in civvies? Will something, anything, ever happen?
The two previous paragraphs sum up almost the entire plot for the first half of the book. It’s the stupendous art by Gerads preventing us from fully realising how unutterably dull it all is. Gerads sticks to a nine panel grid, supplying visual ingenuity via repetition echoing an Andy Warhol pop art print, and occasionally distorting a panel to show something’s not quite right. He’s consistently imaginative in giving a gloss of unreality and he raises the quality.
What’s supposed to captivate is the contrast between the world shattering events Mister Miracle and his wife Barda experience and their actual everyday priorities concerning home decoration and breast feeding as they go about their business. They don’t want to be adventuring, they want to settle into suburban anonymity, and as the surreal juxtaposition continues we’re led to wonder if Mister Miracle’s sanity is intact, if indeed he’s living, but ultimately either option is irrelevant.
In the ninth chapter King works his way to a clever ethical dilemma, echoing the origin story Jack Kirby created for Mister Miracle in the 1970s. It ties together the theological debates about gods and sacrifice, while presenting a trap it’s seemingly impossible to escape. However, bear in mind that it’s wrapped within what may already be a trap Mister Miracle hasn’t escaped. Eventually you’ll have to make up your own mind about that and several other matters as an enigmatic ending gives little away beyond what was revealed in the opening chapter. Is Scott dead? Is he having a breakdown? Is he being brainwashed by Darkseid? Or are we all reading someone’s fantasy about Mister Miracle, that fourth wall to the fourth world busted open?
In Mister Miracle a sitcom couple occasionally put on super suits to sort out the problems of the universe. It’s undeniably clever, but emotionally distanced. The constant unreality prevents any real connection with Scott and Barda despite their questioning, their flippancy and their trauma. It’s only with the dilemma of the final chapters that a connection jolts into place and by then it’s way too late. The Emperor’s new clothes.