Learn the original 1970s origin of escape artist Scott Free. (No, we didn’t make up that name, Jack Kirby did.)
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Graham: Meet the world’s greatest escape artist as we review Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby, straight ahead.
Announcer: Welcome to the Classy Comics podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise Idaho, here is your host Adam Graham.
Host: In the 1970s, Jack Kirby jumped from Marvel to D.C. Although he will later go back to Marvel, later on in the 70s and write books such as Black Panther. During his run with D.C., his greatest contribution is the so-called Fourth World stories as Kirby created Apokolips, New Genesis, Darkseid and Mister Miracle, who will be discussing today. Last year as part of the Jack Kirby centennial, a new edition of Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby was released, containing his entire 18 issue run on the character. So, we’ll go ahead and talk about the book and we’ll go through it first issue by issue and then I’ll talk about it in general.
Mister Miracle number 1 kicks off with Thaddeus Brown as Mister Miracle, the world’s greatest escape artist who has an assistant named Oberon. Scott Free just happens to come upon Mister Brown and they strike up a friendship with Scott sticking around to help out. But Brown is killed by the gangster, Steel Hand and Free takes on the identity of Mister Miracle and get Steel Hand to agree to confess to his involvement in shooting Thaddeus Brown, if Mister Miracle escapes from the trap that is planned. Steel Hand is one of those villains who sounds like a bond villain and literally has a steel hand and of course, Mister Miracle is able to prevail and Scott Free is established as the new Mister Miracle. And it’s worth noting here, that his origin on Apokolips, none of that is discussed in this first issue. He’s just a guy who stumbles by and has a talent for escape aided by his technological aids.
Mister Miracle 2 begins to answer many of these questions as Granny Goodness is introduced in this story and is determined to recapture Scott Free and to punish him and so she sends her robot raiders after him and they take Oberon and Mister Miracle goes to a rescue Oberon and has to beat her robot, the Overlord.
Issues 3 and 4 are important for Mister Miracle as we see the introduction of Dr Bedlam and in his first story, Dr Bedlam appears on earth in a very cool scene involving things called animates, which are look like robots but one of them is chosen and slowly turns into Dr Bedlam. Dr Bedlam sets a trap for Scott and gets Scott to come up into a building and then releases something into the water that causes everyone in the building to go completely paranoid and Scott’s job is to make it out of the building alive which is a challenge given all of the people who are…with everyone out to kill him. This also allows the introduction of Big Barda in issue 4 as she comes to Scott’s rescue. She is the leader of the female Furies and she is a recognized commander in the armies of Apokolips. So, she’s a trained soldier and she offers her assistance in getting Scott out and ends up teaming up with him.
In issue five finds Dr. Vundabar coming in with another plot to get Mister Miracle and we also get more on Barda. When she’s not in her warrior duds, she’s in a kind of a skimpy costume but on her side clip, there’s a stud that she presses and it actually goes ahead and instantly transforms her into her armor within microseconds and it’s a really nice touch and a really good sequence in here. The story also launches the start of the young Scott free stories as we get background on what his life was on Apokolips and want to led up to his decision to leave.
Issue 6 sees a promoter known as Funky Flashman come to get Mister Miracle to sign up for him for our representation and in the course of the conversation, Mister Miracle reveals some of the secrets of us trade including that his powers calm him partially from the mother box which Funky Flashman makes off with, which is unfortunate for him because you see the Female Furies who Big Barda commanded back on Apokolips come to hunt down Scott and Barda. However, Barda is able to defeat those that show up and then the rest of them follow the mother box’s signal which leads them to Funky Flashman, which is a very unfortunate situation for him. This story really does actually see the first introduction of all the other Furies. And after this attack, Scott decides it’s time to go back to Apokolips so that he can legitimately leave and not continue to be hunted.
So, he returns in issue 7 and 8, along with Big Barda, with Barda being reprimanded and sent back to her barracks where she encounters the Female Furies in a state of disorder. However, she is quickly able to bring them to heel as their leader and then as their leader gets them to stage a rescue for Scott Free. Though Scott doesn’t need much rescuing, he was trapped in a mental battle with a lump creature in the lumps mind and it was thought to be impossible for him to prevail but of course he’s Mister Miracle and so he did. And Barda and Scott leave Apokolips along with several Female Furies.
However, issue 9 doesn’t pick up with what happens next. Instead we get the conclusion of the young Scott Free story and we find out how Scott left being under Granny Goodness’ control and learned it was through the influence of Himon, a great escape artist and an inventor who helped develop both the boom tube and the mother box. It’s the story of how he rescued Scott and how out of that encounter began the seed of Scott’s rebellion and eventual decision to flee Apokolips and we also get to see how he and Big Barda met. It’s probably my favorite issue in this book. It’s just a great concept, good characters and it also ties into the greater Fourth World story.
Issue 10 sees Scott, Barda and the Furies return to earth and they’re captured by the World Protective Society under their leader, the Head, who is actually a head in a case of glass. That’s kind of a precursor, I guess, to what the new Batman and the adventures did with Mr Freeze.
Issue 11, Dr Bedlam comes back. Issue 12 has Mister Miracle battling Mystivac, an alien robot who is able to give his opponent a death wish. Issue 13, they’re captured by King Komodo, who was a tyrant who Ted Brown, their new manager and the son of Thaddeus Brown, was captured by during the Korean War. And one thing I should note about Ted Brown. He was introduced back in, I believe, issue 9 or 10 but he looks eerily like Don Blake. Don Blake, of course, is the secret identity of Thor in the early days of the comic book and he was drawn by Jack Kirby and this Ted Brown ends up looking almost exactly like him. Issue 14 finds Mister Miracle battling Madam Evil Eyes, who is running a satanic cult in the middle of nowhere and using mind control.
Issue 15, we meet Shilo Norman. Shilo is a black teenager who witnessed the murder of his brother and the police want him protected so he can testify so they bring him to Mister Miracle. However, Shilo’s determined to track down his brother’s killer so he escapes and Barda and Scott have to go after him. This is kind of an introduction to Shilo, who is able to track down the murderer and the gangster behind him, the black gangster Mister Fez and at the end of the story, Shilo joins Mister Miracle as his apprentice of sorts. Shilo ends up in an insect world after he starts to see these giant insects that no one else can see and some of his friends are captured and so he goes there to rescue them but this Professor Egg traps him by actually making him bigger and making his body so big it cannot escape from the tunnel he’s in without killing everybody in there, including himself and his friends and so did Professor Egg does what any evil scientists would do and introduces a bug larvae clone of Shilo who comes forward ready to attack him and this is all really fascinating, fun drawing ruined by a cop out ending. When you look at a story like that, just imagine the biggest cop out you could have and I think you’ll be able to guess it without me spoiling it.
Issue 17 finds Mister Miracle, Barda and Shilo arriving at a hotel in the country where they’ve broken down and they need some help and some mysterious high jinx ensue, as typically happens in these stories when you stop at a mysterious hotel in the country. Issue 18 is Jack Kirby’s final issue and you see a return of all of the Apokolips villains including Granny Goodness and Dr. Bedlam and a couple I didn’t even mention and they show up as do Oberon and Highfather and others from New Genesis and Mister Miracle and Barda are married. It’s an epic story and it does feel like it’s trying to bring things to a proper conclusion. I think the problem is that it’s rushed. It does feel a lot Kirby was leaving the title and wanted to wrap things up but he really struggled to get this into one issue and the marriage between Barda and Scott wasn’t something that was well set up. In many ways, it’s kind of obvious to the readers that this is something that could or should happen but it was never discussed by them and they weren’t really officially girlfriend/boyfriend. The only foundation is, I think, like in issue 13 or 14 Barda was asked about it and she said she never thought about it. They try to lay some of the foundation in the story but it is a bit rushed but still epic and a lot of fun and an ending that does tie into the Fourth World stories.
So, some overall thoughts just on the characters. Mister Miracle is fun. He is brave to the point of full-hardiness, really willing to walk into any trap believing that he can get out of it. I do think some of the escapes in the story is somewhat undermined, in terms of us feeling a sense of risk or a sense that Mister Miracle has accomplished some great thing because he’s using all of these extra powerful alien technology to get the job done and it seems to be like there’s a gadget for everything. He loses his mother box later on in the book but he has copied the circuits onto his hood so he’s able to always have that function most of the time. So, it’s not quite as impressive.
Barda. Barda is our great character and I think, you consider that she was introduced in 1972 and she’s a really remarkable character. She is a very serious character. There are not really jokes at her expense. There might be an occasional almost floor-like moment of a fish out of water but those are few and far between. She is someone who is serious, someone who is competent. She’s a natural born leader. She’s treated seriously as a soldier within the context of the story. There is no real chip on her shoulder or over-the-topness. She’s just wonderfully crafted. In many ways, she’s like a more traditional Amazon than Wonder Woman but still with a bit of compassion as well as just some very strong leadership skills and a keen mind. She does have some mixed loyalties in her mind and I think there are several times where it indicates that she is kind of separating what Granny Goodness has done and acting like she is almost a rogue element and more concerned with herself than with loyalty to Darkseid though that references to being a loyal to Darkseid kind of fades towards the end of the book.
Oberon is another great character. He’s incredibly loyal, first to Thaddeus Brown and then to Scott Free. He’s a good friend and an able, reliable source, sidekick kind of like an Alfred. You know, he is a little person and he’s fun but not in the sense of being a character that you laugh at or you mock because of his stature. He’s true hearted and brave and really has the best interest of others at heart. Just a wonderful, wonderful character.
And then you have Shilo Norman and I think this character had a lot of potential. It was introduced towards the end of the book but you do have early example of D.C. featuring a black character and giving him some skills and some interest as well as an opportunity to learn from an existing hero like Mister Miracle and he does show himself equal to a lot of tasks and it’s a shame that there wasn’t more of him in this book.
Of course, there are some villains introduced I think the big ones Granny Goodness, her sort of malevolent, sick way of doing things. You really do see the development, at least for the 1970s in place for the character. The Furies were fun but they were, in some ways, less of a threat. They were quite dysfunctional in their relationship and easily swayed. What happens with the Furies in this story, is very different than the previous version of the Furies that I’ve seen, well, for many years later in Superman The Animated Series. In that series, the Furies went after Scott and Barda and never relented. They remained loyal always to Granny Goodness and to Apokolips and Darkseid. Kirby opted to have them follow Barda, which showed the strength of Barda’s leadership skills but really presented a problem when it came to writing comics with them because they were there were so many of them, you couldn’t always have them around. You would need a major, major threat for them all to be needed and necessary and even then, they would be crowding out other characters. This wasn’t really a book that what was designed to suit that many characters and so they were around sometimes and then other times they weren’t around.
Still the designs for the characters and their powers and some of the personalities were pretty well thought out and that does make them enjoyable. The art in this book is excellent. Of course, Jack Kirby is one of the legends of comic art and is in close to top form here. I don’t think he’s quite as good as he was when he was working at Marvel in the 60s but there are still lot of great imaginative ideas, great designs for characters and structures. He’s still a very talented artist at this point in the 1970s. As for the stories, there are some really interesting ones and I don’t think there’s really a bad one in the story other than the one that has the cop-out ending and even that one I kind of enjoyed right up until the end but some story lines would be repetitive. Apokolips bad guys sends Exe after Scott, Scott is trapped, Scott escapes, Exe rants, repeat. Beyond that, when he was not dealing with Apokolips, Jack Kirby really did fall back on either his love of high concept science fiction like with a robot that could give you a death wish or with those kind of pulp fiction ideas. Stuff like Madame Evil Eyes.
This book also does give a clue, I think, to one of the great controversies in comics because there is a debate about how much of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby collaborations Stan Lee’s ideas and how much for Jack Kirby. And looking at the stories you get an idea of the type of ideas that Kirby comes up with on his own. They are generally either high concepts science fiction or they’re really strongly pulp fiction idea that tend to be a little bit out there and with some pulp fiction names like the Steel Hand and Mister Fez. I could easily imagine Kirby coming up with the idea of Galactus or at least coming up with the name of Dr Doom and certainly Pastepot Pete, the original name of the Trapster, I’m willing to bet Jack Kirby came up with that too.
Overall this is a really fun book. It ties into the Fourth World saga but it really can be read on its own. It has some fun characters and designs, some ideas that are still in the D.C. Universe to this day, as well some really good art by one of the masters of the genre. So, I will give Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby a rating of classy.
That’s all for today. If you have a comment, send it to me firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at classycomicsguy and be sure to rate the show on iTunes. From Boise Idaho, this is your host Adam Graham signing off.