The New Gods represent one of the strangest corners of the entire DC Universe. These divine costumed heroes (including the escape artist Mr. Miracle, the war god Orion, and the bright and breezy Lightray) were originally created by comics legend Jack Kirby when he landed at DC in the ’70s after finally breaking with Marvel. But, unfortunately, Kirby’s “Fourth World” saga was interrupted before its conclusion. Ever since, subsequent writers have struggled to recapture the grandiose magnificence of Kirby’s ideas and also incorporate them into the rest of the DC Universe. The new 12-issue Mr. Miracle series, from writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads, represents one of the best efforts yet.
Two issues in, Mr. Miracle has already solidified itself as one of the most mind-bending superhero comics currently on stands. The first issue opened with the titular protagonist, real name Scott Free, attempting suicide. So far, it’s not clear whether this was an attempt to “escape death” the way he usually escapes straightjackets or a genuine experience of nihilistic depression. Helping him through the fallout has been his beloved wife, Big Barda. In the first issue, Barda waited by Scott’s bedside as he recovered from his suicide attempt. In the second issue, she fought by Scott’s side as they made war against the forces of their eternal enemy, Darkseid, on the hellish planet Apokolips. Both of them grew up on Apokolips and once worked together to escape it; since then, they’ve since matured into a husband-and-wife team. The third issue, out this week, even opens with the two taking a break from fighting to just hanging out for a bit. King tells EW that he wanted to make Scott and Barda’s marriage an essential component of Mr. Miracle, similar to the way he has put Batman and Catwoman’s relationship at the forefront of his current Batman run.
“Big Barda’s gonna play a big role. She is the co-lead of this whole thing,” King tells EW. “It’s not just about someone dealing with his own suicide attempt, it’s also about a loved one dealing with their partner’s suicide attempt. That relationship, as Kirby acknowledged himself, is built on Kirby and his wife Roz, as a couple and as a partner. Mitch and I are both insanely in love with our wives, so it’s poetic corny — it’s ‘coetic.’ There’s gonna be misery and all that stuff in this book, but it’s also about this love between two people.”
It’s worth noting, of course, that Mr. Miracle hardly looks like a Kirby comic. Instead of the King’s trademark fisticuffs and explosions, this Mr. Miracle has a softer, surreal vibe — even during the action-heavy second issue. Gerads tells EW that was intentional so that he could put his own take on the Fourth World without worrying about playing karaoke with Kirby’s style.
“You can never match Kirby, no matter how skilled you are. Your brain is just not wired to do it,” Gerads says. “So I didn’t want to try that. I wanted to take the spirit and do something different. So I looked at other illustrations from that Kirby period in the ‘60s and ’70s. I looked at more popular magazine illustration of the time. I’ve been taking a lot of art inspiration in that book from people like Austin Briggs and even Norman Rockwell, trying to do something inspired by that time and inspired by the designs and the spirit of Kirby, while also doing my own thing with it. Which I think is the most Kirby thing you could do.”
At the center of Mr. Miracle, and the Scott Free character in general, is an important question: Is escapism heroic? The Fourth World story is built on a great pact between Darkseid and his light-side counterpart, Highfather, in which the two great leaders exchanged sons in order to ensure cosmic peace. Darkseid’s rowdy son, brought up on heavenly New Genesis, grew to be the noble warrior Orion. Highfather’s angelic son, doomed to hell, was Scott Free — who developed his escapist abilities in order to escape from the hell that was his childhood. Kirby’s stories told of a cosmic prophecy that Darkseid will finally be defeated one day by his son, taken to mean Orion (in its story of a son rising up to defeat his dark overlord father for the sake of the universe, the Fourth World really presaged Star Wars). However, in this series, it’s been implied by no less an authority than Darkseid’s elite minion Granny Goodness that maybe Scott is the one destined to defeat Darkseid since he is also the dark lord’s son in a way. But an escapist is no one’s image of a striving romantic muscled warrior capable of vanquishing evil, so that can’t be right … can it?
“What makes Mr. Miracle interesting is he’s the son of God, but instead of God giving his son to the people, he gave his son to the devil. That’s his origin,” King says. “He was raised in Hell, tortured from his time he was a kid. The reason he’s a good escape artist is that he escaped that torture. The pain of his childhood is what he was trying to escape. He turned that into entertainment, he turned that into art. That makes it interesting to me, he turned it into a skill. There’s just something essentially American about an escape artist.”
It’s also hard to gauge this question considering that King and Gerads have not yet shown us their version of Darkseid — the embodiment of evil, and by some reckoning the greatest villain in the entire DC Universe. But so far all we’ve seen of the Lord of Apokolips in Mr. Miracle has been the occasional dark panel emblazoned with the words, “Darkseid is.” Having grown up a Marvel superfan, King says he didn’t really “get” Darkseid until someone introduced him to this phrase.
“He was like, you don’t understand: Darkseid is,” King says. “Have you ever gotten to a situation where you had two choices, and you knew one was right and one would mess you up but you still did the wrong one? Darkseid is. Has your wife ever said anything, and you knew if you responded in the wrong way it’d ruin your week, and then you still said it? Darkseid is! He’s always present, and he’s the path you can always go down that represses you. As soon as he said that I just saw someone talking and the black panel, ‘Darkseid is.’ The power of the words is enough. That was one of the first things I saw in the comic, was that panel. That’s when I saw what this comic could be because we live in that time now. Not to get political, but it seems like every day I read the paper and you’re reading about nuclear war and Russians taking over the country and Nazis again. It’s like every once in a while, the world blinks for a second, and it goes ‘Darkseid is!’ The world has changed, and it’s changed in a ‘Darkseid is’ way. What’s the bigger trap than that, right? That’s what Mr. Miracle is doing, he’s trying to escape from ‘Darkseid is.’”
“He’s the embodiment of evil, he’s the dark side in all of us,” Gerads says. “I know when I do finally get to draw him, it’ll be the most pressure I’ve had on this book. I want people to pick up that issue and whatever panel Darkseid is on, I want them to cringe a little.”
Until then, check out an exclusive preview of Mr. Miracle #3 below, in which Scott and Barda enjoy the calm before the storm. The issue hits stores this Wednesday. Pre-order it here.