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Mister Miracle: Comics Greatest Escape Artist

I’m constantly amazed at the lasting legacy of Jack Kirby, from his work with Joe Simon and the creation of Captain America to his eventual partnership with Stan Lee and the development of the Marvel Universe. Over the near century that has followed many of Jack’s amazing ideas have been the basis for thousands of stories and inspiration for countless creators. Of all the creations that spawned from Jack’s seemingly endless imagination it seems DC has once again fallen in love with his Fourth World tales as it litters their upcoming Justice League movie trailer and the New Gods of those tales are popping back up in the DC Rebirth Universe, most notable of them being the (arguably) biggest star of them all Scott Free AKA Mister Miracle, the Worlds Greatest Escape Artist.

Originally created in 1971 by Jack Kirby when he fled Marvel

Kirby drew some of the best death defying escapes for Mister Miracle

over creator rights and found himself at DC and working on comics that become known as The Fourth World. Comprised of four titles (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, the Forever People, the New Gods, and Mister Miracle). Kirby conceived the Fourth World as a meta-series that would be finite and later be collected into one giant tome. Unfortunately the popularity of the titles couldn’t match Kirby’s enthusiasm as he left Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen to other creators and both the New Gods and the Forever People were cancelled with issue #11. But Mister Miracle lived on until #18 before it to was axed. But just like every good escape artist Scott Free has escaped cancellation again and again and will do so again as this August as Tom King and Mitch Gerads release their new take on Mister Miracle.

Mister Miracle in his JLI days

I was not around for the original release of Mister Miracle as it was a few years before I was born. But I remember when I really began to love  Mister Miracle. It was the comedic take on the Justice League beautifully written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis with art originally by Kevin Maguire and later Adam Hughes. Scott Free was the perfect comedic foil for the antics and shenanigans of the JLI. I really liked the character with his gaudy costume and flying disks so I did my homework and really came to love Scott Free and his family once I delved into his history and the many wonderful incarnations there have been since 1971.

Before he was Mister Miracle Scott Free was a ward of Darkseid, the despotic ruler of Apokolips. Scott was the son of Highfather, ruler of New Genesis, but as part of a peace agreement the two rulers swapped their sons to avert war. Darkseid’s second son, Orion, was raised on beautiful New Genesis with love and care while Darkseid delivered Scott to Granny Goodness and one of her Terror Orphanages. Granny’s goal was to break Scott, to turn his positive attitude and bend him to serve Darkseid. But Scott was unbreakable and as he matured he learned more about New Genesis and with a stolen Mother Box (a universal living computer that aids each New God) escaped to Earth but in doing so he breaks the truce, allowing Darkseid to once again go to war with New Genesis.

Mister Miracle #1

Scott’s adventures truly begin once he reaches Earth. There he becomes the apprentice of Thaddeus Brown, the first Mister Miracle, and his diminutive assistant Oberon. Over the course of the first few issues Scott assumes the Mister Miracle identity and combines the inherited uniform with his Mother Box and becomes the World’s Greatest Escape Artist. But Granny is not one to take betrayal lightly and she continually attempts to recapture Scott. Joining Scott in these adventures are Oberon, the assistant who becomes a friend and father figure. Scott will eventually take on a young protégée of his own, Shilo Norman, who Grant Morrison will gravitate toward thirty years later.

 

Another notable New God saw her debut in the pages of Mister Miracle. Big Barda, herself an escapee of Apokolips, joins Scott on Earth as she rebels against Granny Goodness and later becomes Scott’s wife and I’d feel remiss if I didn’t give credit to Kirby and his creation of Big Barda. Although she never share’s the title with her husband that does not mean she shouldn’t since Big Barda is as important to a great Mister Miracle story as Scott himself is. She is the warrior of the couple, the protector who will tear the universe apart if Scott is ever in jeopardy, which she did in the pages of JLI. She is loving and tender even though she inhabits the body on par with an Amazon. She and Scott together is pure magic and one of the most thought out and well developed couples in all of comic history, right up there is Reed and Sue in my humble opinion. The comics have not always been kind to her, sometimes used for simple sex appeal and sometimes relegated to the background but in any truly great Mister Miracle story Big Barda is as front and center as her husband.

Big Barda, as important to a Mister Miracle book as the titled hero is

Kirby wrote and drew these adventures that were heavily involved with the entire Fourth World tale early but that becomes downplayed in the later tales. Of the four Fourth World titles Mister Miracle was the most popular as it was the book that felt most like a super hero title. It survived for a few more issues but was ultimately cancelled with #18 and Scott Free disappeared into history. These early issues were a lot of fun and, in my opinion, the easiest Fourth World title to get into for first time readers. The family dynamic, which will become a constant in Mister Miracle comics since Scott and Barda may be the most stable couples in all of comics. Yet it did not catch on at the time and Kirby moved on to Kamandi and the Demon as he fulfilled his DC contract before returning to Marvel.

 

But like most things Kirby his ideas would not fade away to obscurity. Even though it was not a marketplace success (yet) the Fourth World resonated with some readers and a few of these readers were comic creators and in 1977 Mister Miracle returned. This was not a relaunch as that was not the norm in the ‘70s but rather a continuation as Mister Miracle returned with issue #19 and a new creative team. Steve Englehart, one of Comics finest and most underrated writers, was at the helm and Marshall Rogers and Michael Golden joined him on art. If you aren’t familiar with Rogers and Golden you are missing out as they are two of the most detailed and revolutionary artists of the time. Englehart took Scott Free in a different direction then Kirby probably intended as the book took on a heavy Sci-Fi influence and Scott became more messianic, in the vein of Paul Atreides of Frank Herbert’s Dune, then the super hero escape artist he was under Kirby. The title only lasted six issues, and although enjoyable and beautiful, they read more like an elseworld’s tale and are forgotten in DC history as well as to the canon of Mister Miracle. I encourage readers to seek out these issue just for the creative team and what they were attempting to accomplish and the gorgeous artwork within them.

Marshall Rogers detailed rendition in the late ’70s revival

Scott and his family made a few guest appearances in titles like the Brave & the Bold and DC Comics Presents as well as showing up in Crisis on Infinite Earths but didn’t return to the forefront until the aforementioned Justice League (JLI) in 1987. Mister Miracle, Big Barda, and Oberon were prevalent throughout the entire Giffen and DeMatteis run. They were so popular that DC gave him a One-Shot by Kirby apprentice Mark Evanier and the great Steve Rude. It’s a fun tale set in a circus sideshow and plays up many of the elements present in the original series. The One-Shot must have done well since a second Mister Miracle volume was launched in the late ‘80s. Written by J.M. DeMatteis with art by Ian Gibson to begin and then other artists rotated in. Keeping with the humor of JLI the book was set in suburbia where Scott and Barda with Scott’s ‘Uncle’ Oberon were putting down roots when not adventuring with the Justice League. It was a great series, very funny but with plenty of action and super heroics. It also delved into a point glossed over in earlier volumes and that was the animosity Scott had toward his birth father, Highfather, passing him off to Darkseid. It led to some great uncomfortable moments as well as classically awkward family visits. Unfortunetly the title only lasted for twenty-eight issues and ended in 1991. I enjoyed volume 2 when it was on the stands and picked it up religiously and still go back and read the series from time to time. I doubt that DC will ever feel a need to collect this volume but they are usually found in the quarter bins of comic shops and well worth the investment for anyone intrigued by Mister Miracle.

Michael Turner’s take on Big Barda from Superman & Batman: the Supergirl of Krypton

There was another attempt at a Mister Miracle comic in 1996 but it played down the Fourth World connection and was quickly swept under the rug when all Fourth World properties were give to John Byrne for his loving tribute title Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. Scott and Barda showed up within the pages but were not on the forefront as the book focused more on Orion, Metron, Lightray, and the thankfully forgotten Takion (I do not have the words to explain what a mess the introduction of this character was, just trust me it was a train wreck). That titled lasted a couple of years then it to disappeared, replaced by Walter Simonson’s Orion, which is excellent but focuses primarily on the New God of War. Mister Miracle and Big Barda appeared sporadically in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Big Barda most notably in the Superman & Batman: the Supergirl of Krypton  by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner.

Grant Morrison’s take on Shilo Norman as Mister Miracle

 

Then unfortunately the wheels went off the rails when it came to Mister Miracle and the entirety of the Fourth World as they were given to Grant Morrison and he Grant Morrisoned the crap out of them. First came the Seven Soldiers of Victory Mister Miracle mini-series that focused on Shilo Norman as the title character rather then Scott Free. It’s enjoyable as an isolated story but on a whole the entire Seven Soldiers of Victory meta series is … well it’s Grant Morrison at his weirdest and it went over a lot of people’s heads. Then came Final Crisis and the death of the Fourth World, literally as the murder of Orion is the spark that lights the Final Crisis and the Death of the New Gods occured under Jim Starlin at the same time. The Fifth World was born but never caught on. Then there was Flashpoint and the New 52 which saw the New Gods return in Wonder Woman and Green Lantern but it never felt true to Kirby’s vision. While the other New Gods appeared in more militant versions in the Godhead storyline in the Green Lantern books but  Scott and Barda were absent. Mister Miracle and Big Barda eventually returned in Geoff Johns Darkseid War in the pages of the Justice League. Johns, not surprisingly, was the most faithful version of Mister Miracle and Big Barda since the ‘90s but it still didn’t have the classic feel.

Mister Miracle returns under the care of Tom King & Mitch Gerads

Hopefully that will change. Since Rebirth there hasn’t been much of the New Gods that is until the release of Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, which both have stated is really a New Gods Rebirth book. I’m hopeful, as it has been some time since the Mister Miracle I loved and adored as a teen has been present in the DCU. But if the goal of all great escape artists is to build anticipation and then leave the audience wanting more before they make a triumphant return then Scott Free is posed for greatness as anticipation is high for his upcoming relaunch. I hope this triumphant return for Scott Free and this is the return of the classic Mister Miracle I know and love and eventually the entire pantheon of the Fourth World.

 

John Burkle holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in Education. He spends his day teaching Politics and Government as well passing on a love of comics to the next generation. When not teaching he reads as many comics as he can, both current and…

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