17
Nov
11

kirbsday: mister miracle 1

preamble

A few minutes ago, the topless girls were chanting peacefully outside Trinity Church.  Across Broadway, the NYPD had sealed that entrance of Wall Street from all pedestrian traffic.  A few Wall Street brokers were arguing with the cops, trying to get to work but unwilling to walk a block out of their way.  Most of the protesters had gone around to Nassau and Pine, but there were five or six milling around in front of the church, dressed up as cardboard houses, I guess to symbolize something.  I’d been part of the mass demo earlier, but was standing around chatting with one of the church vicars and checking out the topless girls.

A very mellow and quiet scene – until a wall of about ten cops rushed into us, shoving us all back with nightsticks and shouting.  They knocked the girls down; the girls scrambled out of the way.  A church security guy whisked the vicar and her church buddies away.   I was part of this wave of about 20 pedestrians, on-lookers, protesters and fake-houses being rapidly forced down the street.  Everyone was compliant and backing up as the police kept shouting.

An older black guy fell down the the police were going to trample him.  I tried to help him up, and was yelling at the cops that we were backing up but let me just get this guy on his feet.  The police kept shoving me back.  Finally I got the black guy on his feet–and the police shoved him right down again, and pushed me away, shouting the entire time.

Things eventually settled down, and luckily the girls andthe black guy were fine.  (The cardboard houses were ruined.)  I have no idea what set the cops off.  At that moment, everything had been peaceful and chill; Broadway was practically deserted.  I’d gone there precisely because it seemed out of the way.  The scary and upsetting thing about this was that it was an unprovoked show of force that wouldn’t even pause so that you could help someone comply safely.  Total, unquestioning obedience was not enough.  Totally trivial stuff in the big scheme of things!  But still more than I’d bargained for on Thursday morning.

the show must go on

Which, maybe, segues into Jack Kirby’s Mister Miracle, a series about a super escape artist who simply wants to live his life, even though there’s a war of the gods raging all around him.  We’ll see later on that the lead character escaped from the police-planet Apokolips, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I love that cover.  I had heard about Mister Miracle for years, and thought the idea of replacing the traditional climactic super hero fight sequence with an escape artist bit was brilliant, but I only got to read the series only a few years ago.

It opens with a brave young man trying to come to the aid of an aging escape artist persecuted by a reluctant dwarf:

They become friends:

and team up to scare off some Inter-Gang thugs who have a score to settle with the old man:

The mob leader, a guy named Steel Hand with a radioactive hand made out of steel that can slice through two feet of titanium and literally crush to pieces an arm-wrestling robot, is determined to humiliate Mister Miracle (the old guy) in something called “The Big Trap.”  Apparently Steel Hand and Mister Miracle had a running bet that Mister Miracle couldn’t escape Steel Hand’s traps, and as Steel Hand gained more and more power in Inter-Gang the fact that this old coot continued to defy him became an increasing liability.

It turns out that Scott Free is something of an escape artist too, though is methods are unconventional:

Scott explains that he’s an orphan, whose only inheritance is a bag of strange gadgets.  “Scott Free” was a nickname given to him at the orphanage so that foundlings would “feel as individuals.”

Steel Hand personally supervises a sniper in killing Mister Miracle while practicing his act.  The old Mister Miracle is pretty philosophical when he learns that the Big Trap that Steel Hand had in mind was death itself: “Funny fellow, Steel Hand!”

What happens next writes itself:

OMG again with theHello!  Get me the secret Inter-Gang missile site!” stuff.  Being the phone operator at Inter-Gang has got to be one of the best jobs.

anything to add?

Mister Miracle is the only one of Kirby’s Fourth World titles to focus on a single protagonist.  Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen is inherently a double act; The Forever People are a team.  Orion dominates the pages of The New Gods but as we’ll see that title is just as much about the broader Fourth World setting as it is about its anti-hero.

Mister Miracle is in some ways a conventional super hero title–seemingly normal kid gets something to believe in, puts on a crazy costume, uses some mysterious gifts to beat mobsters–but again the main focus of every issue isn’t punching out a villain but rather getting out of some deathtrap.

It’s an inspired idea–Kirby like a lot of kids of his generation idolized Harry Houdini, so turning Houdini into a super hero is perfectly understandable.  But the storytelling need to put the hero into deathtrap after deathtrap is itself a pretty harsh creative constraint, as we’ll see in the issues to come.  It reminds me of the whole Flipper Dipper concept: sure, you’ve got a SCUBA nut on the Newsboy Legion, but that means that every issue you’ve got to find some excuse for him to go diving.  But Flipper Dipper is just one kid out of the six or seven main guys in Jimmy Olsen, and if he doesn’t get his spotlight scene that’s not a crisis.  Here, “super escape artist!” is on the cover each month.

The other thing that’s a little frustrating is that what made Houdini cool is exactly what makes Batman cool: in theory, you can do it yourself; Mister Miracle, however, has crazy scientific gadgets from another planet that he uses to not only cheat death, but to cheat the terms of the wager.  And most of the time there’s barely any explanation.  It’s like his super power is, “cannot get hurt.”  (This is a good idea for a  first-level Shukenja spell.)

But the romantic ideal of Escape is still a pretty cool idea for a comic, especially in the broader Fourth World context of Orion the good soldier and the Forever People trying to prevent Darkseid from acquiring “outside control of all living thought” via the Anti-Life Equation.  Mark Evanier has noted that Mister Miracle also was a metaphor for Kirby trying to escape the creative constraints that were limiting his career and his artistry, and that visually Scott Free was modeled on Jim Steranko, an outstandingly illustrator and graphic designer (and actual former escape artist) who Kirby saw as a new hope for art in comics.  I don’t know enough about that stuff to comment directly, but I’ll try to learn more as we go along.


3 Responses to “kirbsday: mister miracle 1”


  1. November 17, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    In addition to Houdini, Kirby in part based MM on comic book artist Steranko, whose pre-comics career included stints as stage magician and escape artist.


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