Review by Frank Plowright
Until now DC’s Young Adult recreations of their mainstream characters have been wildly removed from the original versions, in some cases barely connected beyond their names, but The Great Escape presents an almost familiar character and situation.
Varian Johnson heads back to Jack Kirby’s origin for Mister Miracle, honing his escapology talents in the brutal orphanage run by Granny Goodness on Apokalips. Scott Free plans to achieve the impossible and escape to Earth, but he’s just not sure how. What is certain is that the doctrine on Apokalips is that any rebel spirit should be crushed, and under Johnson, Scott has an outrageously upbeat and confident personality. It works well among a lot of nice touches for those who know the original Mister Miracle, such as assorted villains and supporting characters also used, but never in a way that could befuddle readers who’ve never encountered Mister Miracle before. That sort of thought also applies to the appropriate songs used as chapter titles, although, Float On? Really?
In addition to producing a suspenseful character study, Johnson also uses the orphanage as a metaphor for the USA and the supposed opportunity for anyone to make something of themselves, whereas in reality the deck is stacked. He doesn’t belabour this, but for those that want to see it, it’s there. It’s also interesting how much casual swearing is now considered acceptable, hence the adult content warning for a Young Adult graphic novel.
The Apokalips of the mainstream DC universe has to be forgotten to take in Daniel Isles drawing it for young adults. The school setting isn’t far removed from any US high school, and the types found there, perhaps another allegory, but Isles delivers the depression differently, by using very muted colours and a very limited palette. For someone who works primarily as an illustrator he adapts excellently to comics, and he’s very clear about telling the story, apart from an initially distracting quirk of using little red shapes to indicate the direction of motion.
For all the interesting interludes, an important reason for Scott to escape to Earth is introduced near the beginning, and Johnson keeps the mystery of exactly who Scott is bubbling while introducing the concept of what makes a worthwhile friend. The personal relationships ring very true, both in terms of teenagers interacting and of the desperate situation impacting on them.
DC’s Young Adult line has been a welcome introduction, but too few of the graphic novels have transcended average. The Great Escape does far better, being thoughtful, humane and tense, while even seasoned readers are going to be hooked by Scott’s progress, which remains compelling all the way to the end.