Monday, January 25, 2010

Mister Miracle 17 & 18

[Andy Bentley's pen-ultimate, or pen-pen-ultimate, look at every issue of Jack Kirby's New Gods.]

Mister Miracle #17 “Murder Lodge!”
Mister Miracle #18 “Wild Wedding Guests”

This is my 50th post on Kirby’s Fourth World, which also happens to be the end of the Fourth World Saga in sequential form. I cannot sum up the finale any better than the jacket liner to the Omnibus which proclaims “Kirby’s Epic Saga Concludes!”. It certainly does, but not in the fashion with which it began.

Let’s get the penultimate issue out of the way. Miracle, Barda and Shilo (now decked out in a red and yellow sidekick uniform) have their vehicle break down in an unknown part of town and seek refuge in a creepy old hotel. If you’ve ever seen any episodes of Scooby Doo, you know the rest of the story. The bad guy doesn’t dress as a ghoul or ghost, but he utilizes plenty of trap doors and knockout gas on our heroes. In the end, it turns out the trio resembled another trio of fugitives spotted in the area. Hence, the hostile treatment. The cops take the bad guys away and that’s really all that needs to be said.

Now, onto “Wild Wedding Guests”. The issue opens on the standard preparation of an escape act when suddenly there’s an attack of shock-grenades from above. The culprit is Virman Vunderbar, a formidable opponent from Apokolips. Miracle and Barda avoid the explosion with the help of Miracle’s boot-lasers. Then, out of nowhere, the two profess their deep and undying love for one another! Sure, there were hints several issues back, but I was hoping for at least a bit of a slow natural progression on this front. The blame probably lies on the abrupt cancellation of the title and not necessarily on Kirby’s plotting.

The two surface and deal with Vunderbar, however he isn’t alone. Granny Goodness, Dr. Bedlam, and Kanto the Assasin, reveal themselves and along with some grunts from Apokolips, subdue their opponents. The concept of all of Miracle’s villains ganging up to overpower him is a solid premise (see Spidey’s Sinister Six) but there’s something off in the execution. The Fourth world characters have not brought along the epic and transcendent feel they had during the height of the series. Instead, they’ve been polluted by the light and simple tone the Mr. Miracle series took post cancellation. They string up Miracle and his friends to a Magna-wall, which is about to launch and detonate when the calvary arrives. Orion appears and makes short work of the grunts while Light-ray flies above and rescues our heroes from death. there’s an underwhelming encounter between Orion and Granny Goodness which feels like a squandered opportunity. In my dream scenario, Orion meets her midway through a gauntlet of Darkseid’s lieutenants as he battles to reach his estranged father. The meeting is cut short as a blast from above sends Darkseid’s servants into retreat. Metron and Highfather have finally made their way to Earth, but not to halt the invasion by Darkseid. No no, these men proclaim it’s a nice day...for a white wedding.

That’s right, The Source has lead them to this spot where a wedding must take place. Luckily we have two candidates who just realized they’re passionately in love. I’m being glib about the situation to mask my disappointment. This is not the ending anyone wanted, not even Kirby himself. Oberon and Shilo are shoo’d away, as they are not New Gods and cannot be part of the ceremony. Highfather knights the two with his staff and then Scot Free and Barda exchange their celebratory kiss. However another interruption occurs with a torrent of wind and energy that is aptly described as “cosmic fury”. Darkseid is on his way and the New Gods do not want to be there when he arrives. As Metron phases them out, Orion once again makes the proclamation that they will meet on the day called “The Last Battle”. Shilo and Oberon make their way out of the rubble and mistake Darkseid for a victim of the storm to which Darkseid replies “I AM the storm”. With this revelation Oberon and Shilo “head for ze hills”, leaving Darkseid to himself. He laments that he was not able to ruin the wedding any further and proclaims “Life at best is bitter-sweet!”. Darkseid is looking directly out towards the reader as he says this, acting as a mouthpiece for Kirby. His work on the Fourth world was one of his top life accomplishments, but the pedestrian ending is a tough pill to swallow.

It’s a weird, melancholy conclusion. One that probably didn’t make much sense to the current reader of the early 70’s. In hindsight, it would have been best to probably just conclude the Mr. Miracle series with Barda and Miracle falling in love without the guest stars from the Fourth World. But back then, there was little chance Kirby would ever get a chance to return to this material. He would in fact be asked to return in the mid 80’s for two final stories: “Even Gods Must Die!” and the original OGN, “Hunger Dogs”. Please join me next time for the background on this resurrection and an in depth analysis.

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