Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Andy Bentley on The New Gods 6: Mister Miracle 1

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right or the label below.]

“Murder Missile Trap”
The issue opens on Mr. Miracle, a super escape artist being trussed up by his assistant Oberon to prepare for a death defying stunt. Watching is Scott Free, a man who was given his unique name in an orphanage where he was raised. Oberon begins to set fire to the sealed box Mr. Miracle is trapped in and Scott Free is compelled to interrupt the proceedings. His actions are unnecessary as Mr. Miracle bursts forth from his would-be fiery coffin. Introductions between Mr. Miracle (Thaddeus Brown) and Scott are cut short when Intergang, atomic age gangsters, arrive and threaten Mr. Miracle at the request of their boss, Steel Hand. Threats turn to assault and with Scott’s keen reflexes the thugs are defeated and the trio return to Thaddeus’ home. Scott is then given the history of the Mr. Miracle moniker: Thaddeus Brown was once “The Great Thaddeus” and had another assistant in the form of his son Ted, who created the Mr. Miracle costume for his father. Ted unfortunately was killed in the Korean war and his mother had also passed. Thaddeus has begun to slow down in his older age, but is adamant that he can continue to be Mr. Miracle even if his assistant Oberon objects. Scott reveals that he has several technological inheritances that might help assist the elder escape artist in his endeavors. Thaddeus and Oberon put Scott to the test by chaining him tightly with a padded lock and moments later the chains burst and Scott is as his namesake, free. Scott reveals his secret to be a a miniature device that caused an intense magnetic repulsion.

The next day, Scott, Thaddeus and Oberon take to the countryside to test another Miracle stunt. This time Mr. Miracle is to evade an incoming metallic boulder all the while chained to a tree. Unbeknownst to them, Steel Hand and a sharp shooter have located the trio and have Mr. Miracle in their sites. As Oberon releases the boulder, the sniper connects with his target and Mr. Miracle is left helpless with the boulder fast approaching. Scott reacts quickly by appearing to punch the boulder off target. He frees Mr. Miracle but it is too late, Thaddeus is dying and Scott wishes to ease his passing. He rolls up his sleeve to reveal an intricate series of computer chips and processors on his arm which cumulate in a mother box! He removes the box and places it to the ear of the dying Mr. Miracle and it soothes the pain of death. Oberon grieves for his dead master and then reveals the origin of the conflict between Steel Hand and Mr. Miracle: The two men were hospitalized in the same room several years ago and agreed to a bet that Steel could create a trap that Miracle couldn’t escape from.

Days later, Steel Hand is proving the strength of his augmented hand when in through a window appears Mr. Miracle. Miracle disarms Steels right hand man, but is overpowered by Intergang soldiers. They take Miracle’s body to the top of a readied missile and bind him to the nose. The missile lifts off and detonates in the air and Steel hand basks in his enemies defeat. Steel Hand returns to his office and is shocked to find once again Mr. Miracle alive in well. The two face off with Steel Hand punching and smashing and Miracle evading and using gadgets to gain an advantage. Steel Hand is caught in a Compact Cocoon and led away by the authorities. Oberon and Scott decide Mr. Miracle must live on and so he shall in the pages of Mr. Miracle monthly.

The concept of Mr. Miracle, escape artist, has been often seen as a homage by Kirby to fellow comic book artist Jim Steranko who performed as an illusionist and escape artist in his early 20’s. It’s also been theorized that the often bound Mr. Miracle represents the frustration Kirby felt within the comic book business. Miracle also continues to represent Kirby’s progressive ideals and enthusiasm in youth. The mantle is passed down from the weary elder magician to the technology enabled, enthusiastic youth. This passing of the torch is indicative of the transition from golden age superheroes to silver age superheroes. Many of the golden age creations were steeped in mystics and magics where the silver age creations were born of science and technology. There’s also a bit of Batman mixed in with Scott’s array of gadgets. His costume borders on being too busy, but it works especially when you learn it’s theatrical origin. The name Scott Free is one I found ridiculous in my Image comic days but is now one I can appreciate knowing it’s origins. Steel hand isn’t much of a villain, but shooting a bound old man certainly is a start. Steel hand suffers from the “telling instead of showing” syndrome as he explains his character and motivations to himself for a good 6-10 panels. Oberon is a bit of an oddity, being a balding dwarf with a purple tunic and red tights. Perhaps there’s a fourth world explanation forthcoming.

This is a classic origin issue with shades of Star Wars and Fellowship of the Ring as a youth gets the call to action from an elderly wizard. The pace is fast and enjoyable as we begin the issue in mid scene and briskly transform Scott Free into the new Mr. Miracle by issue’s end. Scott seems unaware of his technologies origin, he merely knows what they can accomplish. The mother box continues to impress by giving Scott zen like moments. It appears as a technological way of focusing his chi. I have no doubt Miracle’s escape artist origin will likely lead to some fantastic death traps that will rival the 1960’s Batman TV show. Mr. Miracle compliments the cosmic opus of events in New Gods well with fast action and great Kirby gadgets. It is the longest running of the four series and I eagerly anticipate the next issue.

[For reasons I cannot explain, something about reading the original appearances makes his appearance in Morrison's comics make so much more sense, even though I cannot really point to anything I did not know about the character before, just from general comic book knowledge. The spirit of the thing, I guess.]


Christian said...

Mr. Miracle is my favorite of the New Gods. And Granny Goodness is possibly the second best villain out of the series, besides Darkseid. In fact, they might share a 1st place for me.

Andy said...

Geoff, I've been having similar reactions to many aspects of Morrsion work after knowing their Kirby origins. I guess it just sets a precedent which gives us more leeway in pausibility

Geoff Klock said...

He is just so often called weird. Reading Kirby you realize how thoroughly traditional he is.