Review: Mister Miracle: The Deluxe Edition hardcover (DC Comics)


Mister Miracle is dead, Mister Miracle is alive, Mister Miracle is in heaven, Mister Miracle is in hell, Mister Miracle has the opportunity to escape from both but doesn’t take it. All of this is real. None of this is happening. Darkseid is. Batman kills babies. The sins of the father are visited on the son. The Fourth World is always arriving, never arrived. What color were Big Barda’s eyes again? Tom King and Mitch Gerads' collected Mister Miracle isn’t telling.

[Review contains spoilers]

Among all the wonders and horrors in Mister Miracle, perhaps the greatest is engrained in approaching the text itself. Who can appreciate what haunts Scott Free, who can appreciate the emotion when Scott strikes Highfather after Highfather chides him for not sacrificing his only begotten son, who has not pored over (and over) near-60 issues of loftily written 1970s comics, who has not thrilled to dark god Darkseid hitting the big time in Super Friends animation, who has not seen Superman and Big Barda teamed in an ill-conceived compromising situation, who did not follow Oberon through the bwa-ha-ha days, who did not puzzle over Cosmic Odyssey and see Orion join the JLA, who did not struggle through Genesis and Death of the New Gods and bask in Final Crisis, through the Fourth World’s reemergence in the New 52 and on and on — without not just having read Fourth World books but having lived with the New Gods in the background of your life for 30, 40, 50 years, is it possible to appreciate the depth of emotion here?

And so we have a book, a work of genius, something you’d like all your friends to read, but to simply hand it to someone, to say, “Here, read this,” is folly on high, because by the first questions — “Who’s this guy with the fins on his helmet and why is he punching Mister Miracle” — something is already lost. This is a book only a select few can appreciate — not a minute number, but also not everyone — and best by those who’ve spent part of a lifetime in preparation — adolescence, young adulthood, approaching middle age — knowingly or not. Even if you start now, even if you read all the texts, if it were to take you a year to get all caught up, would that be sufficient, or does it require the spaced-out time, the surprises, the lulls and special appearances? Can you take half a century to get there?

The wonder and the horror of it all.1

Among things King does well — aside from conversations down the center of a nine-panel grid while bodies fly on either side, aside from whole poignant issues spent discussing condo redecorating — is identifying the glossed-over hurt at the center of a legend, the spark of pain lost in the glory of a mythology. A man condemned his son to writhe in torment — but the son escaped and became a superhero and joined the Justice League and had amazing adventures! Even going back to Jack Kirby’s original, the story picks up with the second part, relegating the first to mere flashback, and so rarely have we been made to feel Scott’s agony, his torture, to reflect on the inhumanity of Highfather’s decision, or to consider the effect on Scott Free and Big Barda of — what we should have been calling it all along — their abusive childhoods. That Scott has slit his wrists on the second page of the first full chapter is shocking, unsettling, but should not perhaps be surprising; all of this has been here all along, but like all the many confessions embedded in King’s Heroes in Crisis, often it’s easier to look to the battles in the sky and not the battles within.

If you read every other couple of pages — heaven and not hell — or if you were only to read the dialogue without looking at the pictures, Miracle is a brilliantly humdrum book, filled with the trivialities of grocery-shopping and bill-paying and feeding the cat. As in King’s Batman, the characters here (at least Scott and Barda) are well aware of the absurdity of their New God-liness, buying a vegetable tray for a treason trial and peeing off a ledge in a giant medieval castle. The obvious moral, found in a number of King’s works, is that ongoing, incessant war deadens people to the horror of it all.2 But, I find more relevance in the intimations in King’s introduction, that page-to-page Mister Miracle is about the American political climate circa 2016–2018, trying to carry on daily life as normal while somewhere out there lines are being crossed and societal norms disdained — and that’s altogether before a worldwide pandemic the effects of which might rival the Anti-Life Equation. The more everything is blithely fine in Miracle, the worse it actually is (and also buy diapers on the way home from the front).

In a moment of betrayal worthy of Apokolips, a drawn-out negotiation ends with Darkseid offering extravagant peace — in exchange for Scott’s new infant son. If this is all a trick, if this is all a scheme by Darkseid or an act of revenge on Highfather or if all of this is a vision of Scott’s trapped within the Anti-Life Equation, one can imagine that the entire point of killing Highfather and killing Orion and all of it is just to arrive at this point, to torture Scott Free by making him seriously consider visiting on his son the greatest act of evil his father visited on him. It is as if the biblical God comes to Isaac and asks him to take one of his own sons up a mountain as sacrifice.

And Miracle’s climactic moment then is when the ghost of Highfather appears to Scott and suggests Scott faced the Anti-Life Equation and lost — that the fact that Scott did not sacrifice his son for the good of the world, that Scott valued the needs of the few over the needs of the many, means that Scott failed where his father succeeded (with Scott wearing, no less, a James Robinson’s Starman T-shirt). Here, King expertly delves deep into the nuance of what Kirby created: Highfather was simultaneously unspeakably cruel but also not wrong; none of this would “exist” — not Superman, not Batman, not reality itself — had Highfather not made the choice he made, and now Scott Free has made the opposite one. Supposedly Darkseid is dead, supposedly the Frees live happily every after — but also, we are all doomed!

Or are we? In a scene that by rights should not have been necessary, Metron appears to Scott and shows him that there is Another World, one that does not seem particularly incompatible with the one in which this story is taking place, but that on closer inspection has a New 52 Highfather and a New 52 Orion and a smiling Lightray (because the first hint all of this is wrong is what a tool Lightray is here) and Jon Kent and both Wallace and Wally West and (god love Tom King) Starman Jack Knight. Which is to say, Mister Miracle does not take place in “our” continuity (or does it?!); Scott Free does not have a son or a daughter; Batman ostensibly does not kill babies; Darkseid is not dead; and on and on. All of this takes place in the matrix (or, what have you, the Anti-Life Equation). Which is perhaps a worthwhile tweak in a book about the New Gods, though not the kind of hurdle-jumping required of an a-continuity DC Black Label book like Batman: Three Jokers; one gathers, however, that Mister Miracle missed ending up under the Black Label imprint by mere inches, given the his and hers tushies that Gerads offers up here.

One must of course also give Mitch Gerads his due for Mister Miracle. As much as King packs in here, Gerads presents it all with considerable panache, the bright primary colors and the often shadowed figures, the uncomfortable layer of grit festooned over everything, the unrelenting static-distorted panels. The distance between this pair’s Sheriff of Babylon and Mister Miracle is not great, only a couple of years, not an eon’s worth of practice, but the growth is obvious (maybe too obvious to mention), what feels like the difference between just illustrating what’s on the page and illustrating something deeper than that.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Mister Miracle: The Deluxe Edition



“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” If Tom King and Mitch Gerads Mister Miracle goes wrong anywhere, it’s that they did not use the introduction to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as an epigraph. “I can always escape,” Scott Free proclaims at the end, but the more we consider this story, the more we must wonder — is there escape from reality? Where is Mister Miracle? What writer dares use him again after this? Will we ever see him again? Tune in next time — ah, you know the drill.

[Includes variant covers, cover sketches, script and in-process art, character sketches]

  1. Does Picard have the same meaning unless you thought Nemesis was the last time you‘d ever see him? Or Seven and “Endgame”? Can you fully appreciate what The Mandalorian has wrought unless you were sitting in a theater watching Clone Wars in 2008? How long ago must you have read Rorschach’s journal for Laurie Blake's joke to deliver its full effect?  ↩

  2. See also Sheriff of Babylon, Omega Men, Heroes in Crisis.  ↩

Comments ( 7 )

  1. You raise a really good point about this book - how well does it work for someone who isn't steeped in the Gospel of the Fourth World? It's my second/third favorite fictional sandbox (after Star Wars and maybe Gotham), but I didn't fully appreciate how insular it is until reading your review.

    You reminded me of a perfect case-in-point. The moment when Scott refers to the baby as "a lump" made me gasp - but my girlfriend at the time, who's never read the Kirby run, didn't understand what a game-changer that throwaway line is. Ditto the appearance of the Female Furies in the hospital waiting room - the absurd comedy of that moment only really lands if you know how incongruous the image actually is.

    All of this is to echo the popular sentiment that every comic book is someone's first. What if Mister Miracle were your first comic, let alone your first encounter with the Fourth World? I think enough of the beats still land, but the nuance might be lost. Still, I think there's so much to gain by treating comics with a "just go with it" instinct. One of my first Superman comics was from the Triangle Era in the 1990s - I had no idea who Dubbilex was, but I just ran with the idea that Superman knew a horned gray goblin who cloned newsboys underground.

    Moreover, though, how do we get to a point where EVERYONE knows who Lightray is? When does Darkseid reach cultural saturation? How do we attain a world where I don't have to explain The Lump?

    1. And even more so, I am someone who is stepped in Fourth World and has read tons and tons of it over the years, and the book STILL didn't work for me.

    2. The Lump bit was actually lost on me till you mentioned it and I went to look it up, and I've read the original Mister Miracle comics, too. So let's get down to it: is Scott in the Lump here? Is he inside the Anti-Life Equation? Is any of this actually happening?

    3. My take is that it’s sort of like Inception - he may very well be in The Lump (with Metron trying to bust him out at the end), and Scott seems to know that. But he’s happy, and as far as he’s concerned, to borrow a phrase from Westworld, “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”

      The continuity of this series is largely irreconcilable with, say, Justice League Odyssey, so that makes it more plausible that this is an alt-continuity Lump encounter. Indeed, Lump seems to be the conspicuous absence in the book...

      I don’t have the book in front of me, but aren’t the “this isn’t real” glitches around Jacob at that point?

    4. Interesting ... I wonder if one could speculate when in The Lump he is, like could this all take place in Scott's mind during his first encounter with The Lump or something. Based on what Highfather said, I was going on the idea that Scott was somehow inside the Anti-Life Equation, but thinking about it, I guess there's no precedent for that being a thing that actually happens to people.

      Can't wait now for some other writer to misunderstand and have Scott show up with his kids ...

  2. John CummingsJanuary 04, 2021

    My exposure to the Fourth World has been through the Superman/Justice League cartoons and then later through some modern comics (Darkseid War, Final Crisis, etc.). My point being that I've never read the original Kirby stuff nor did I have much appreciation for the Fourth World on it's own. Outside of Darkseid, it's just never really appealed to me.

    I decided to read Mr. Miracle because I was on a Tom King kick and it immediately became one of my favorite books. I loved every moment of it.

    I've wanted my wife to read this book, but she's had very little exposure to the characters. She kind of gets who Darkseid is, but that's about it. I don't think she would like it as much as I hope she would because of this. She has no clue who Mister Miracle, Barda, Highfather, Orion, etc. are. I had a thought awhile back of using the recent Female Furies mini-series as an introduction and I still think that might work. It's actually a pretty good introduction to the world and characters.

    Does anyone else have any good Fourth World primers? I don't think you need a deep understanding to thoroughly enjoy this book. Just a decent understanding of who the characters are, how they relate to each other, and their general motives.

    1. I enjoyed the Kirby originals; if I can plug, you might try the Fourth World by Jack Kirby books and then come here for the reviews! Walt Simonson's Orion book is very popular, too, and for a real primer-primer, the upcoming Who's Who Omnibus should have some prose explanations of the New Gods, too. Cosmic Odyssey is another, shorter one that might be more easily accessible.


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