[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. I make a comment below about Morrison.]
“The Mister Miracle to Be!”
As I opened the fourth and final Omnibus of Jack Kirby’s Fourth world, I was taken aback by the table of contents. There were no less than 9 Mister Miracle stories and only one remaining Forever People and The New Gods titles. I quickly turned to the introduction by Paul Levitz, who recently stepped down from the office of President and Publisher of DC Comics. Paul wrote a concise and affectionate letter about Kirby and his work at DC Comics. Levitz reinforced the fact that Kirby was the first to plan a series of interwoven titles rather than have the connections made after the fact ala the Marvel universe. He also praised Kirby for his imaginative storyboarding - something I believe Kirby learned through his love of film. The letter reinvigorated my spirit and I plunged into the first Mister Miracle issue. Unfortunately, the story did not live up to Levitz’ send off.
The story feels disjointed from the series as a whole. It involves Mr. Miracle, Big Barda and her female furies being thrown into a sci-fi spy battle already in progress. The World Protective League (The bad guys) are planning to blackmail the world with a Orbital Plague Bomb (or ORB) and believe Mr. Miracle to be part of their adversaries, The All Nations League (The good Guys). The World Protective League is run by a disembodied head known only as “The Head” who uses his psychic powers to determine Mr. Miracle is an escape artist. Mr. Miracle evades his traps and grabs him, hoping to stop the ORB from detonating. The Head uses his telekinetic (or magnetic?) powers to direct Mr. Miracle into the ORB which will soon blast off and detonate, releasing the toxic germs. However, The Head becomes attached to the bomb and it appears the both of them are killed by the explosion. Mr. Miracle has, of course, escaped and is back on the ground with Barda. Barda and her Furies were busy escaping their prison along with Mike McCracken, a captured All-Nations agent. They all return home to find that Ted Brown, the son of the original Mister Miracle, has returned home and is conveniently looking for an act to manage. Oberon remarks that his friends from Apokolips would be a perfect fit.
After the battle on Apokolips, the battle with the World Protective League is an unnecessary sidetrack. None of the lead characters reference the events from the issues past on Apokolips. The henchmen in the league look akin to the henchmen in A.I.M., a Marvel Comics terrorist organization and Mike McCracken’s chauvinistic ways are similar to Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s on again off again beau. Mr. Miracle’s escape goes unexplained and the reveal of the long lost son of the first Mister Miracle is cliche at best.
I needed answers, so I turned to the afterword by Mark Evanier. I’ve come to the conclusion that the idea of reading these books unaffected by their age is unfeasible and learning about the circumstances of their creation is more insightful. To summarize, DC’s sales weren’t good, especially for the Fourth World tales. They asked Kirby for some ideas and selected Kamandi and The Demon as solid candidates. Kirby planned to start these series and then hand them off to a capable creator, but DC thought otherwise. This put Kirby’s output at 5 books and not even the King could handle a workload that size. So DC decided to put the Forever People and The New Gods on ice. This devastated Kirby. The Fourth World allowed Kirby to work through a lot of emotional experiences throughout his life: religious persecution, war, love of friends and family and his career at Marvel. Evanier even states that he took out his anger at Richard Nixon through Darkseid, something I’d never caught onto. These books were the most personal project he’d ever created and to see people not respond to them was painful. So Jack was allowed to keep Mister Miracle, but the damage was done and there was no way to condense the saga of The Fourth World into one title. That is why we have the World Protective League versus The All Nation’s League.
I went back and reread the issue and the turmoil is apparent, even from the opening page. It almost feels like the characters Jack could salvage are dumped into a completely different comic. My hope is that Kirby gets back into some sort of groove over the next dozen issues or so, but I’m less optimistic after this first issue.
-Evanier’s chronology is a bit fuzzy so there’s certainly a chance that this issue was completed before Jack got the call that the books were cancelled. But Kirby did know sales weren’t good and Evanier says he had to course correct Mister Miracle into a “stand alone super hero title” which this certainly feels like.
-The afterword mentions that Neal Adam’s and Denny O’Niel’s groundbreaking Green Lantern/Green Arrow series was cancelled earlier in the year The Fourth World ended. What exactly WERE comic readers buying in 1972?!
-Even though I got little out of this issue, I have a hunch a young Matt Fraction did. The sci-fi spy angle seems very reminiscent of early issues of Fraction’s series, Casanova
-The disembodied head is a staple of science fiction. It’s an interesting commentary on humans and how we view what makes us individuals
-It’s a bit of a pyrrhic victory, but it looks like Mister Miracle is gonna put on that magic show I requested in the last column.
[Right around the first few issues of the fourth volume I will admit it -- I just gave up on it. I knew no good end was in sight and felt like I had gotten what there was to get out of it. Andy -- you will have to let me know if I should finish this volume. One thing I do want to say about Mr. Miracle -- isn't it interesting that Morrison makes him the spirit of survival itself, since in a way he is the only survivor of Kirby's New Gods, the one who survived the gutting of the series the longest. It would be over-reading if Morrison did not explicitly make DC editorial into villains in his work.]