In the early days of the American comic book industry Jack Kirby created or co-created pretty much all of the characters that now rule pop culture, Marvel’s superheroes. In alphabetical order, Kirby had his fingers in the invention of Ant-Man, Black Panther, Bucky Barnes, Captain America, Doctor Doom, The Fantastic Four, Nick Fury, The Hulk, Iron Man, Loki, Magneto, The Red Skull, Scarlet Witch, The Silver Surfer, Thor, The Vision, The Wasp, and The X-Men among many, many others. If you saw and liked Avengers: Infinity War, you can thank Jack Kirby for pretty much all those characters.
In the late ’60s, after decades at Marvel Comics, Kirby decided he needed more credit for his work so he brokered a deal to move to Marvel’s rival, DC Comics. At DC, he developed his magnum opus, a collection of comic books set in “The Fourth World” where a Shakespearean cast of “New Gods” live on two planets, the utopian New Genesis and the hellish Apokolips. In Kirby’s science fantasy mythology, the opposing cultures strike an uneasy truce, sealing the deal by exchanging their children. The evil Darkseid sends his son Orion to live on New Genesis and Highfather sends his son Scott to live in the torturous fire pits of Apokolips.
Orion lives in the lap of luxury, raised as the Highfather’s son. Scott falls in love with the warrior Big Barda and together they break out of the pits and escape to Earth where he indulges his penchant for breaking bonds and becomes the escape artist Mister Miracle.
Then, as these things so often go, DC started interfering with Kirby’s creations, insisting on neverending storylines and crossovers with Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Justice League. Kirby’s Fourth World comics petered out after just a couple of years. Though occasional attempted revivals over the years have kept Kirby’s influence on the DC Universe alive, the New Gods never entered the public consciousness in a real way.
Now, nearly 50 years after the New Gods first appeared, writer Tom King, hot on the heels of his critical hit The Vision, has brought them back in a big, unexpected way with his new Mister Miracle series.
Mister Miracle opens disturbingly in the aftermath of a failed suicide attempt. Scott claims his obsession with escaping forced him to attempt the world’s greatest escape: breaking free from death itself. But in reality, Scott is suffering an emotional breakdown that he can’t understand. He’s married to the love of his life, he’s a world famous escape artist, and he even gets to hang out with the Justice League. So why isn’t he happy? Could it be because his father, the supposed god of goodness, sent him to spend his childhood being tortured by Darkseid? Yeah, probably.
But before he can even begin to work on his depression, Scott is called back to New Genesis. Darkseid has discovered an all-powerful weapon and the war between Apokolips and New Genesis has begun again. As the son of the Highfather, Scott is duty-bound to lead the battle against evil. To complicate the issue further, Barda is pregnant. Scott has become the new Highfather of New Genesis and taken on the responsibilities of leading an army during wartime, but he’s also a father dealing with the stress of a newborn son while battling depression and unresolved trauma.
Mister Miracle is a mainstream comic book. That’s for sure. There are superpowers and teleportation and outlandish costumes. But at it’s heart, it is a deeply human character study of a man under emotion duress, despondent despite having an outwardly happy life. Mister Miracle is not an easy ready. The subject matter is difficult and, at times, so is the storytelling. Like Jack Kirby before him, Tom King drops the reader into the story with no concerns for decipherability, making the first quarter of the book almost unbearable confusing. But stick with the story and everything resolves into a rich examination of mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, parenthood, and depression.