Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mining for Gold(en): Mister Miracle in "Double Bind!"

I have to say, though New Gods was my favorite of Jack Kirby's Fourth World titles, my favorite character was Scott Free, Mister Miracle. Here was a prince, raised as a slave/soldier, who both literally and figuratively broke the bonds of an evil society to become his own man. Evidently, a lot of fans had a soft spot for MM, because his book ran the longest of the Fourth World titles, clocking in at 18 issues (January 1971-November 1973) compared to New Gods and Forever People's 11 each. When DC brought New Gods and Mister Miracle back in 1977, I was delighted, but a bit wary since The King was back at Marvel. Who could pick up from where Jack Kirby left off?

Gerry Conway and the late, great Don Newton put forth a valiant effort on Return of the New Gods, but it lacked the scope, the "cosmic zap" that had made it so special. Mister Miracle, however fared much better. The first four issues of his revival (issues 19-22, June-November 1977) were written by Steve Englehart, who'd given us some "cosmic zaps" of his own on Marvel's Dr. Strange and Captain Marvel titles (though Englehart used his "John Harkness" pen-name on issue #22), and drawn by the incomparable Marshall Rogers. Englehart and Rogers managed to keep Kirby's father vs. son/good vs. evil/heaven vs. hell true to the spirit of what Kirby had done, but kept it fresh, exciting, and new. Believe it or not, though, things got even better when they left (and baby, that's high praise!). With issue #23 (January 1978), Steve Gerber and Michael Golden took over as writer and artist, respectively. Gerber had given us Nebulon and the Headmen in Defenders (posts on that are forthcoming, never fear!), Man- Thing, Omega the Unknown, Howard the Duck, and so much more. Yeah, the "cosmic zaps" would keep coming, but with huge doses of pop-psychology, satire, and cultural commentary to spice it up. And if any artist could pick up the baton and keep the pace with Marshall Rogers, it was Michael Golden (even if they did saddle him with the solid-but-too-old-fashioned Joe Giella as inker on his first outing). Gerber and Golden finished up what Englehart and Rogers had started, then with issue #24 (March 1978), they got their own thing going and gave Mister Miracle a whole new direction. No more standing in the middle of the war between Apokolips and New Genesis. Scott Free (along with his sidekick Oberon and his wife, the beauteous and bountiful Big Barda, natch) would take his super-escape artist act to Las Vegas in an effort to inspire mankind to escape from its humdrum routines and embrace their freedom and individuality so they would be able to survive the onslaught of Darkseid's anti-life equation should he ever wield it against them. Gerber and Golden's plan was to make Scott Free a "secular messiah", dig?

Well, dig or don't, I bet you'll still groove to Michael Golden's art (ably inked by the much-more-appropriate-for-Golden Russ Heath) from ish #24. Here comes, "Double Bind!"

Sadly, Gerber and Golden's Mister Miracle lasted only one more issue (#25, June 1978), another victim of the dread DC Implosion. But man, it sure was far-out while it lasted!

3 comments:

  1. The fact that the work of the Gerber-Golden team on Mr. Miracle was cut short was always one of the more tantalizing "would have beens" in comics, at least to me. I think both Englehart and Gerber really did a spectacular job of continuing the Mr. Miracle story and, in Gerber's case, setting off in a bold new direction. The "secular messiah" concept was intriguing, and it would have been really fascinating to see Gerber further develop that story-line. And that art alone in these 7 issues (Rogers followed by Golden!) would seem to warrant its release in a trade.
    I think my only criticism of this run on Mr. Miracle is that the atmosphere was a little too weighty and serious, in contrast to the light-hearted, almost sit-com like vibe Kirby created among the main characters in the original series (which was resurrected in that later Mr. Miracle run from the late '80s/early '90s).

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  2. Supposedly, Len Wein was going to take over writing chores with #26, although there was some talk of a Big Barda back-up by Gerber.

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  3. I don't think it was so much that Mr Miracle was more popular than the New Gods or Forever People, it was just that Kirby had a contractual obligation to provide a certain number of pages every week, and Mr Miracle was the book most easily converted to a more reader-friendly super-hero title. Note there's very little Fourth World stuff after issue 10 -- well, apart from the big finale in #18.

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