Tom King and Mitch Gerads’s Eisner Award-winning collaboration on DC Comics’ “Mister Miracle” was never supposed to happen.
Batman was supposed to be the superhero that brought King and Gerads back together after the success of their DC Vertigo Iraq War story “Sheriff of Babylon.” The story was “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” a Batman tale featuring a battle between the Joker and the Riddler. But when DC decided they wanted the story to appear in their flagship “Batman” title that King was also writing, art duties went to artist Mikel Janin.
Shortly after that decision, King had drinks with DC co-publisher Dan DiDio.
“Write about whatever you want to write about,” King recalls DiDio telling him, with the promise that whatever it was, Gerads could illustrate it. DiDio asked if King was interested in writing another series similar to his Marvel hit “The Vision,” another Eisner winner. King was. But they needed a hero. DiDio mentioned Mister Miracle, DC’s master escape artist, easily a top-five contender for most creative superhero suit ever, born on the Jack Kirby-created Fourth World.
King immediately knew that the incident he (wrongly) thought was an escape from death in April of 2016 would inspire Mister Miracle’s story over a 12-issue maxi-series (the final issue of “Mister Miracle” is available in print and digital Wednesday). While celebrating his wife’s birthday, King had a panic attack that he described as a “first season of ‘The Sopranos’ ” kind of thing, referring to the same anxiety that plagued James Gandolfini’s lead character on the show. King thought he was having a heart attack.
But doctors told King he was fine. The world to King, however, didn’t seem okay. The year 2016 represented a shift in everything in King’s eyes, from the historic political campaign to a country that seemed more divided than ever. When King turned on the news he didn’t feel good about what he was hearing. It would all become fodder for “Mister Miracle” and the journey of protagonist Scott Free, the man under Mister Miracle’s mask.
“I don’t mean this as [something political], but it became a world where sort of every day everyone was dealing with sort of a constant anxiety that things were changing too fast and changing in a way that was fairly horrific,” King told The Washington Post’ Comic Riffs.
“I didn’t want to write about the politics of it, because a lot of people were doing better work than me, but to write about the anxiety of it and the emotion of it and to write about what it felt like to be alive in sort of this latter-half of this decade when it just feels like we’re living in something that’s not real. And we feel like we’re trapped. And we don’t know how to get out," he added. "And I was like, oh, wait, [Dan] just offered me to write Mister Miracle. He’s an escape artist. Okay, I can put these two things together.”
The typical politics of Kirby’s Fourth World take a back seat in “Mister Miracle.” The almighty DC villain Darkseid, his son Orion (who was traded in a peace offering as a child for a young Scott Free, sentencing Scott to a torturous upbringing on Darkseid’s planet Apokolips) are secondary plot points as the titular hero tries to put all of that darkness and pain behind him. To achieve that, Mister Miracle seeks out a quiet suburban life (as quiet as it can be in Los Angeles) with the love of his life, Big Barda, the giant powerhouse who also grew up on Apokolips with him. There are plenty of Boom Tubes, however. There is no Fourth World without Boom Tubes.
“Mister Miracle” begins with Scott attempting suicide, seemingly trying to escape the paradise he’s built for himself.
He was "sort of the Jesus of the DC universe where he’s the son of [New God Highfather], was traded to the devil (Darkseid) to make sort of a peace between the devil and God. He was raised by the devil and tortured his entire childhood and escapes that torture,” King said. “The idea that someone like that would sort of have lingering pains from a childhood spent in torture chambers from being sold by your father into those chambers and that would manifest itself in this sort of semi-suicide attack that you have to find a way to deal with that pain … just seemed natural to the character I think to both me and DC.”
Each issue of “Mister Miracle” following the series-opening moment of shock is an attempt by the hero to get back to as normal a life as possible. Grocery store visits. Planning for parenthood. Stressing over traffic and a condo not big enough for a family. The darkness of Apokolips is there, but so is the life Mister Miracle values over the hell that he was raised in. King says the real-world approach he took with the character was a part of his plan to not try to out-Kirby the late king of comics.
“[Kirby is] huge cosmic ideas that sort of move the universe with every panel. The idea was we can’t sort of outdo that, we can’t do bigger than that, so we’re going to sort of internalize it and make it smaller,” King said.
Gerads enjoyed drawing gods that wanted to be anything but.
“[Mister Miracle and Big Barda] don’t care that they are gods. They just want to live their perfect suburban life, and that’s kind of a nice way for the reader to enter that big world of the [New Gods] as someone who wants to be normal and desperately is trying to act normal,” Gerads said. “Sometimes you drop readers into [these] big giant things, and it’s really easy to walk away, because you just can’t connect to anyone.”
One scene in “Mister Miracle” that perhaps Kirby never would have envisioned was Mister Miracle back on Apokolips negotiating for peace, and Darkseid wanting Mister Miracle’s firstborn son, Jacob, in return. To calm the tension, Mister Miracle and Big Barda bring a veggie platter (which plays a darker role in the story). Darkseid partakes in the platter. And also, double-dips.
“I won’t rest until they release a Darkseid figure that comes with a veggie platter accessory,” Gerads said with a laugh. “I just want to hang out at Target and watch little kids pick that up and be like, ‘What the…’ ”
With “Mister Miracle” having wrapped up, and King and Gerads nabbing Eisners for best writer and penciller for their efforts, both say it is likely they’re done with Kirby’s Fourth World. They have another maxi-series planned but aren’t ready to reveal it just yet, saying only they’ll get started after they finally do a couple of issues of “Batman" together.
“I feel like, if you look at it thematically, you could see [“Sheriff of Babylon”] and Mister Miracle and this next series as kind of a trilogy,” King said. “And then after that, we’ll probably be too tired to do anything.”