This week I look back on the masterwork of Mister Miracle, reflect on the talent of Stan Lee, and love a particular element of DC’s Titans.
Featured Comic Of the Week –
(Spoilers For These Issues Follow!)
Title: Mister Miracle #1 to #12
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Where to find: Mister Miracle Graphic Novel
Few superhero comics in recent years have hit the pedigree and critical adoration of Tom King and Mitch Gerads twelve issue Mister Miracle.
In many ways, the reaction to Mister Miracle most reminds me of Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Annie Wu’s work on Hawkeye. Both series are simultaneously genre-defying (other superhero books just don’t tell stories in remotely the same way), and still integrated deeply in the depths of shared universe narratives. Like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns before them, they’re the type of storytelling you can hand to a non-comics reader (a classic “muggle”) and feel confident about grandiose statements like “This is why comics are great.”
King has rapidly become one of my favorite writers in comics since 2015, with highly recommended reads like Grayson, Omega Men, Sheriff of Babylon, and Marvel’s Vision. Intriguingly, King’s stature has swooned notably from the start of Mister Miracle, so that by the time issue #12 was released this past week there’s real pushback to his work in Batman and Heroes in Crisis. The hype train that likely peaked with Mister Miracle’s deserved ownership of the most recent Eisner awards is at least stalled on the tracks.
Wrapping up Mister Miracle is a pretty great way to remind readers where the hype came from, though, and to my mind, there’s no question that this is King and Gerad’s best work.
I have to think the New Gods were the perfect DC Universe playground for this type of story, as the absurd unreality of the narrative allows King and Gerads to take liberties with Jack Kirby’s 4th World that would darn near start a riot in a more traditional story. Just look at King’s work writing Batman to see how divisive his interpretation of established characters can be. That’s not an issue in Mister Miracle by design. Scott Free is depressed. Orion is the biggest jerk he’s ever been. Granny Goodness is… likable? Darkseid likes carrots. Taken as a whole it all works.
At its core, Mister Miracle is set up to place one nagging question lodged firmly in your mind: Is this really happening? Gerads nine-panel grids frequently “fuzz” out like a scrambled TV receiver, using color, collage, and chaos to indicate something is frayed at the edge of reality. More often than not the page is 8/9ths clear, evoking the maddening feeling that you’d know exactly what was wrong if you could just put your finger on it.
When he wants to, King is tremendously effective at puzzling out seemingly solvable enigmas, through the mysteries of (oft-repeated) language. Readers can understand the general sentiment behind “You can not know the face of god,” but deciphering the thematic connections is no small feat. The invitation to vivisect language and apply literary symbolism is a large part of what has made King’s comic books so beloved. Superhero comics don’t always call out for critical thinking; Mister Miracle playfully demands it.
It doesn’t take much to realize the unreality of Mister Miracle mirrors a lot of our own present experiences, with divisive politics eradicating the boundaries of once reliable facts. It would be a stretch to call Mister Miracle an overtly political book, but it does work to capture the experience of being alive in this political moment better than anything I’ve read.
For my money, the book’s secret weapon is humor. Themes of depression and the uncertainty of living are hardly laugh riots, which makes the absurdist attitudes of Scott and Barda so welcome. Whether it’s the visual gag of high and mighty New Gods working a veggie tray, or the delightful mundanity of Mr. and Mrs. Free discussing all the details of a condo redesign while breaking into Orion’s palace, Mister Miracle is genuinely funny in surprising ways.
There’s no arguing that Mister Miracle is about as accurate a reflection of new parenthood as you’re likely to find in any comic, forget just superheroes. Scott and Barda’s conversations about napping, sleepless nights, and childproofing cribs are perfect representations of life with a newborn. Always remember parents: Batman kills babies.
Much like LOST, these twelve issues are so good that any ending that fails to deliver the meaning of life may well leave some readers unsatisfied. Nonetheless, the series concludes with enough room for interpretation that a reread is heavily encouraged. Is it real? Is it the afterlife? Escape back to these pages and maybe you’ll find out.
NEWS: R.I.P Stan Lee
Stan Lee passed away this month at the age of 95, and I was surprised to find how hard the departure impacted me. Like many Marvel fans, I felt like I knew Stan more than I ever rationally could, and his contributions to the comic book medium are such immense part of why Comic Book Herald even exists. I’ll miss knowing his energy and endless enthusiasm are in the world.
Like any celebrity death, it only took minutes for the hot takes to come rolling in, the most common of course casting aspersions on Lee’s muddled creative ownership over Marvel characters. This is a common conversation for those who follow comics – to the point of tedium, frankly. Personally, I’ve taken the stance that responsible fans need to acknowledge the contributions of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and various collaborators. As obvious as it is to me now, I grew up watching animated Fantastic Four cartoons with introductions by Lee, and just accepting he was the brain behind all their adventures. That’s too much credit, clearly.
Nonetheless, the pendulum has swung too far the other direction for those caught in the endless credit wars. I’ve been reading both Silver Age Marvel Comics as part of Comic Book Herald’s upcoming My Marvelous Year book club, and Silver Age DC books like Flash, Doom Patrol, and Justice League of America, and my lord, the attitude Lee brings to scripting and dialogue is a whirlwind of fresh air!
From the moment Fantastic Four hit stands in December 1961 through Lee’s final days actively writing comics in 1972, he’s unquestionably the most captivating writer and editor in the medium of superhero comics. Not even counting the impact Lee had as the spokesperson for the genre’s acceptance in pop culture, simply as a comic book creator, Stan Lee wrote good comics! Some of the best in fact.
So yes, give Lee’s collaborators credit. But in the wake of the legend’s final days, please also remember the art we’ve enjoyed as a result of his fantastic work.
Thank you, Stan. For everything.
LOVE OF THE WEEK
While my overall assessment of DC’s Titans remains a mixed blend of curiosity and frustration, I do have to celebrate the joyous soundtrack that accompanied the first season’s third episode. Track after track caused me to look up and take note of the beat. In the immortal words of Paul Westerberg and the Replacements, “I’m in love… what’s that song? I’m in love with that song”
It’s a small thing, but I’m always grateful for superhero TV or movies (stand up, Guardians of the Galaxy) that introduce me to new music. For those curious, the following tracks were immediate adds to my year-round immutable all-ages family gathering selection:
- Sunny by Boney M.
- Keep it Comin’ Love by KC and the Sunshine Band
- Make Me Wanna Zing by John Acosta