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Saturday, 12 March 2011

Jack Kirby's Mr Miracle

Welcome to our latest guest reviewer, Simon Amphlett.  Simon describes himself as "Erstwhile English Teacher, lover of all the comics, friend to the oppressed and eater of all the foods".  Sadly, he does not have an online home.

Created, written, drawn and edited by Jack Kirby
Inked by Vince Colletta and Mike Royer
Published by DC 

What's it about?
This collection contains issues 1-10 of comic legend Jack Kirby's 1971-2 DC series Mr Miracle.  Conceived as part of an interlocking, ambitious collection of stories woven around the 'Fourth World' theme of Kirby's 'New Gods,' Mister Miracle concerns the master escapologist Scott Free's attempts to outfox the forces of ‘Evil God’ Darkseid, as they seek to punish him for escaping from their nightmarish home world of Apokolips.

Kirby’s Fourth World epic was never completed as poor sales led to cancellations of all the associated titles. (Mister Miracle ended at issue eighteen) However, over time his ideas gained in popularity and acclaim and all of its wonderfully inventive elements returned to the DC universe where they continue to feature heavily. (See for example the recent ‘Final Crisis’ collection). 

Writer and artist Jack 'King' Kirby is hugely acclaimed as a visionary and pioneering force in comics, most commonly known as the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Hulk and the X-Men for rival company Marvel Comics.

What's good about it?
The series begins not with Scott Free, the orphan from Apokolips, but with the first Mister Miracle Thaddeus Brown. Brown is a very human but highly gifted escapologist aided by assistant Oberon, a wise cracking, emotional yet highly loyal dwarf.  When Thaddeus Brown is murdered by the gangster Steel Hand (a classic strange and menacing Kirby villain) Scott Free takes on the Mister Miracle mantle to avenge Brown’s death, having seemingly popped up out of nowhere a few pages before. Scott's past then begins to catch up with him, slowly at first but then at dizzying speed as the hordes of Darkseid seek to put him in ever more fiendish and complicated traps and situations. (eg ‘The Closing Jaws of Death!’) The latter half of the book is concerned more with developing the ‘Fourth World’ mythos and establishing Scott’s background on this terrible, fascistic planet.

Kirby’s rich and fertile imagination has long been a source of wonder and inspiration for readers and creators alike, and a detailed read of this collection reveals why. He has the glorious gift of making his stories and characters wonderfully zany, almost daft yet somehow imbuing them with real gravitas and evoking genuine emotion. Kirby’s joyful enthusiasm is infectious and evident in his bombastic, yet endearing language that begins and ends each chapter.

The speed of the action is very impressive, almost blink and you miss it as Kirby casually mentions some mind blowing new concept that you need to get your head around in order to comprehend yet another miraculous escape or terrible villain. As mentioned this style has been a tremendous influence on any future comic writer of note, Frank Miller’s Daredevil and almost anything by Grant Morrison spring to mind.

More than a few words must be said about the range and depth of the supporting cast of characters. Throughout the book Kirby acknowledges his debt to Dickens for his imaginatively named creations. The diabolical Doctors Bedlam and Vundarbar make quite the impression but it’s the downright terrifying Granny Goodness who casts the darkest (and largest) shadow.  She is the ‘Nanny’ of Apokolips’s terrible institution, commanding very tough love indeed as she corrupts orphans into vengeful soldiers of Darkseid.  

But never fear! Another brash, bold woman from Apokolips is there to even the balance and pretty much steal the whole show. Said to be based on Kirby’s wife, the again very aptly named Big Barda quits her leadership of the all-female Furies to seek Scott on Earth. 
Scott’s miraculous escapes are really something to behold, and better yet there is somewhat of a rational explanation for them. Kirby himself often felt restricted and controlled by the comics companies and like him, all of Scott’s escapes are down to his own ingenuity and persistent hard work. 
What's bad about it? 
Precious little – perhaps its over-explanatory dialogue might grate a little with modern readers, but generally it’s rather endearing when you consider its age. I wouldn’t particularly recommend it for younger readers as it can get a little intricate; also the totalitarian, 1984ish vision of Apokolips  - “to live well is to die well” - and its deranged inhabitants is really quite dark and twisted, although this is tempered by Scott’s wisecracks and against-all-odds daring-do.

Some readers may find the ‘Funky Flashman’ issue rather confusing, but it might help to know that this pompous, self-promoting and shallow buffoon of a publicist is based on Kirby’s again extremely famous contemporary, Stan Lee. Lee has occasionally been criticised for these hyperbolic characteristics as well as his alleged side-lining of other artists and creators, Kirby very much included.

Big Barda has her detractors but I find it difficult to find too much to object to, apart from the slightly archaic dialogue. Certainly any feckless gawkers are dealt with harshly by Barda herself.
What about the art?
Big, bold and in your face! Kirby’s 3D characters leap off the page and you can almost feel every explosion and fist. Kirby was a master of perspective and particularly adept at grotesque and monstrous imagery. Some may find it a little rushed but the joyous speed that Scott’s adventures romp along at is a real thrill. 

The biggest problem though is that it is all in black and white instead of the original colour, so some of the detail can’t always be easily distinguished without taking some time to pore over the details. That said, this two page spread proves that it’s worth doing so.
Other Information
Price: £9.99
ISBN: 1563894572
If you want to read more about Kirby's Fourth World, you could try Teen Titans Spotlight: Wonder Girl, Superman/Batman: Supergirl, or Final Crisis, written about here.  All feature the New Gods quite heavily.


  1. Too bad they didn't want to recolor it (nor present it in its original coloring, like the JLI collected books).

    I love all things Jack Kirby, this is a must^^