DC Honors Jack Kirby’s 100th Birthday with Psychedelic ‘Mister Miracle’ Update
The first issue of Tom King & Mitch Gerads' "Fourth World" reboot will blow your mind
August 2017 is the month in which Jack “King” Kirby would’ve turned a 100 years old. Together with Joe Simon, the renowned comics artist created Captain America. After fighting in World War II himself, he returned to comics and, with help from Stan Lee, basically created the Marvel universe by plotting and drawing the foundational runs of tons of its major characters in the 1960s.
It’s far from an exaggeration to say that Kirby became not only the single most important artist working in comics but one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His kinetic and highly recognizable style made Marvel the powerhouse it is today. But oddly enough it’s not Marvel that’s going all-out to celebrate his enormous contribution to pop culture, but rather its main competitor, DC Comics.
After growing disputes with the company he helped build, Kirby left Marvel for DC in the early ‘70s. It was there that he created his most ambitious work, the “Fourth World,” a series of four interconnected titles featuring mostly brand new characters, telling the story of The New Gods and their mythological struggles across Earth and other planets.
By the standards of the time, it was a flop sales-wise. Most of the titles lasted for about a year, and Kirby wouldn’t get to finish his saga until 1985, when he published a graphic novel titled The Hunger Dogs. The timing wasn’t a coincidence. Interest in the story had been reignited by then, as a generation of comic book creators at both Marvel and DC had been inspired by what he had done a decade earlier—despite its initial commercial failure.
The acclaim for Kirby’s undertaking has been as huge as the ambition he launched it with.
For all the artists and writers who took inspiration from Kirby’s “Fourth World” and ran with it in the years that followed it, the titles became cult classics. To anyone reading DC Comics nowadays, it’s hard to imagine that the debut of a character like Darkseid initially underperformed. In hindsight, the acclaim for Kirby’s undertaking has been as huge as the ambition he launched it with.
Flash forward to this month, and DC is honoring Kirby’s pioneering spirit by publishing a new series focusing on Mister Miracle, the most popular of the Fourth World characters. Written by the publisher’s new superstar writer Tom King (of Omega Men, Batman, Marvel’s Vision and Vertigo’s The Sheriff of Babylon fame) and drawn by his frequent collaborator Mitch Gerads. Anticipation for the title has reached a fever pitch ever since it was first announced and reaches its zenith as readers can finally enjoy it today.
Thankfully, it delivers. But be warned: the first chapter in what will be a 12-issue series, will seriously leave you scratching your head.
The issue opens with a huge close-up of Scott Free, aka Mister Miracle’s face. The superhero/escape artist is accompanied by text boxes delivering grandiose narration reminiscent of the style in which his creator would write, but as the camera pans out, the scene takes a darkly contrasting turn. We’ll not spoil it here, but it immediately makes for a brooding, disturbingly dark atmosphere.
Gerads not only pencils the artwork but inks and colors it himself as well. His scratchy inks are akin to those of the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz and significantly add to the moodiness of the whole endeavor. His coloring choices are as unorthodox as they are effective.
Almost every scene in Mister Miracle’s work in washed in subdued hues. His apartment is full of dull greens, blues, and grays, except for a poster in his apartment, reminding him of better days (as a fun easter egg and a nod to his creator, that poster is actually the cover to Mister Miracle’s 1971 debut comic). A later scene finds him in a world of pale yellows, gray and white, with the superhero costume he’s wearing being the only splash of bright color.
Another splash of color is added to the final scene, as his superhero partner and the love of his life Big Barda (a character Kirby based on his own wife Roz), suits up along with him to go fight their ultimate battle on Scott’s home planet. But he feels unprepared, imbalanced and unsure of what is even happening. And talking to a deceased friend in what appears to be a hallucination doesn’t exactly help him find his footing.
The unusual coloring even appears to be a plot point, which becomes apparent when Barda looks at him (and us) while assuring Scott of the importance of their upcoming battle. Her eyes are a bright blue, while earlier on in the story, a worried Scott asks why her eyes were suddenly brown. “Scott, don’t be crazy. They’ve always been brown,” she answered there.
Tom King’s choice to strictly adhere to his beloved 9-panel grid after the issue’s opening scene, greatly enhances the claustrophobic feel the escape artist must be experiencing. It’s like he’s trapped in these panels, and we’re trapped there with him, even without the ominous black panels saying nothing but “Darkseid is.” interspersed throughout.
Those black panels even create a mirroring pattern on two pages, though we can only guess at its meaning for now, and it’s far from the only thing leaving the reader guessing. The villainous Glorious Godfrey appears as a talk show host interviewing Scott, but how? And why is the TV’s image so distorted? Is this a dream sequence? If so, what does it mean?
Though it’s impossible to describe what happens in this comic without reverting to spoilers, we can say that King and Gerads have taken it upon themselves to tell a hugely ambitious story, in which everything from panel layout to coloring actually factors directly into the plot.
This synergy of every element that comprises a comic creates a mesmerizing, perhaps even psychedelic display of what makes the medium so powerful. Readers unfamiliar with the character shouldn’t feel held back by its disorienting feel, this sensation appears to be wholly intentional and will be shared equally by the initiated.
Judging by this first issue, the ambition behind this Mister Miracle reboot seems like a perfect way to honor the King’s 100th birthday.
Mister Miracle #1 is out now both digitally and in stores.