Ironically, when I was reading this issue of Mister Miracle, I thought about how I was, in a way, glad I didn’t have to review it, because I wasn’t sure I could handle evaluating it fairly. I love this comic and I have a million things to say about it, but I feel as if I lack a sufficient understanding of Darkseid, Apokolips or the New Genesis set to fully analyze it. Then, I checked my inbox again and realized it was in my folder, and that I’d somehow missed it earlier. I only considered not reviewing it for a second, though. I love the comic too much not to.
When I saw him at Boston Comic Con, Tom King talked about writing Batman, and how basically you can never write the best or perfect Batman comic because it’s already been done so many times. All you can bring to Batman as a writer is yourself. So, that’s what I’m going to do with this review: instead of focusing on what I don’t know about Apokolips, I’m going to focus on what I know about comics and writing to explain why I think Mister Miracle is one of the best comics I’ve ever read.
The first issue of this comic is nothing short of perfect. After a brief, but meaningful, prologue, it opens with Scott Free’s completely unexplained suicide attempt. Perhaps, those who have not dealt with an unexplained suicide in their lives could find this aggravating: for a hero to do something so dark without any reason or explanation given. But anyone who has survived the unexpected suicide of a loved one will find it to be something else entirely: familiar. Of course, for those who have suffered from suicidal thoughts and depression, such actions require no explanation. The truth is these things don’t always have explanations, and yes, it is aggravating; and it is frustrating, and it is terrifying, but more than that it is isolating.
I remember at BCC, King discussed how he and Mitch Gerads wanted to make a comic that captured the underlying anxieties of our culture today, the sense of people feeling increasingly trapped and isolated; and how the ultimate escape artist seemed like the perfect hero for such an undertaking. If he wished to capture the anxieties and tensions of our time, I think violence and self-destruction without clear motivation is a huge one, made only more tragically relevant by the events in Las Vegas on October 1st.
This opening instantly elevates the tension within the narrative, which is only further heightened by the rigid adherence the nine panel grid after the suicide attempt: what was once a familiar hallmark of King’s comics becomes yet another prison for Scott to escape from.
The art is also absolutely amazing, what Gerads manages to do while constrained to the nine panel grid is nothing short of magic. Just to cite an example from this particular issue, there are two panels which combine to form a single picture when Scott is talking to Forager, but they’re in separate panels: isolating Scott from a friend and comrade in his moment of need. Maybe to you that sounds like a minor, subtle detail, but that’s the thing, there are countless examples of brilliant, subtle details in this comic. Everything is subtly tuned and thoughtfully treated to perfectly sculpt the mood of the comic.
A large part of the brilliance of Mister Miracle is that the art and writing work together in perfect harmony to match the relationship between the reader and the story to Scott’s emotional distress. After Scott’s attempted suicide, we are anxious and unsure, because we would have expected to see the lead up to such an event, or to have had it explained immediately afterward. When we see a hint that Granny Goodness may have been trying to help Scott right before being killed, we feel betrayed and confused, because this is not the Granny Goodness we know and we had no reason to expect that and no explanation of why it was so after her death. When Forager is taken, we feel lost, bewildered and helpless, just like Scott does, because we have no more an idea than Scott does if he’s telling the truth or not, meaning we cannot even have an informed opinion on whether or not Scott should have tried to defend him.
By carefully picking and choosing exactly what we know and see in this comic, King and Gerads have achieved a unique sense of emotionality that is almost unheard of in comic books. There is no way in which we have access to privileged information, no “back in the Joker’s lair” scenes. We see little and understand less, almost more like a horror narrative than traditional action or war, maintaining tension, suspense and anxiety.
I also love the look of the art: classic but somehow corrupted. And the more uncertain or dark the situation the more the view feels distorted and alien– as if the universe itself becomes noisier with as Scott’s mental and emotional strain increases. The variant cover for this issue was one of my favorites so far: with Scott, dressed in a Batman t-shirt, standing alone and miserable, surrounded by people trying to take his picture and all that comes up on the cameras (all they see) is Mister Miracle.
There were some elements of this issue I found particularly striking. The scenes of Scott in bed with Barda, for starters. Another moment where this comic manages to perfectly capture one of the darker elements of our society: an increasing sense of general anxiety. After all they’ve been through and with all they share, Scott and Barda are clearly so close that they are basically part of one another. And yet, here we see Scott’s anxieties isolate him from her even when she’s right next to him, leaving him to fight those fears and uncertainties with part of him missing.
The scene at the cafe where Barda says that they’ll figure out what is wrong with Scott once the war is over sent chills down my spine because it conveys so much. The difference between stress that can be handled and a crisis that cannot wait is thin, and often invisible, even to the person dealing with it or those closest to them: it is only in hindsight that difference becomes obvious.
As for those who say this comic doesn’t live up to its hype, my (not so) humble opinion is that they’re flat-out wrong. It does that and much more, and I am certain it will be considered one of the greatest comic books of our era. Anyone who calls themselves a comic book fan, or even a consumer of important contemporary media, and does not read this comic is making a huge mistake, and doing themselves a grave disservice.
Rating: N/A (Because giving this comic 5 Stars would be like giving Einstein 100% on a physics test: obvious, but somewhat insulting)
(W) Tom King (A) Mitch Gerads (CA) Nick Derington