It’s almost strange to do a review of it now, at the time of its physical release as a complete graphic novel – rave reviews were already being plastered on the cover of issue #1 before it was even released. The story is published by DC Comics, written by Tom King, former CIA officer turned writer, and illustrated by Mitch Gerads, a man who I entirely suspect is being controlled by his delightfully lush beard, like how the rat pilots the human in Ratatouille.
Seriously, just look at that thing.
In any case, the Eisner Award-Winning series has been released long enough that you probably have heard enough of its praises already. It’s been hailed as a master-class in storytelling, an excellent depiction of depression, and even the next Watchmen. Seeing as I’m writing this review for a comic store (and I wouldn’t be writing reviews for things I dislike), it’d be understandable if I repeated those sentiments. In some respects that may be a little difficult for me personally, as I’m not really a fan of Tom King’s work… but I do find myself strongly recommending this book regardless.
Do I think it’s the next Watchmen? No. Do I think it’s good? Great, even? Yes – but for not entirely the same reasons as others think. While I don’t think it’s the next Watchmen, I can see the similarities. The book is bold and unapologetic for the content it displays, which ranges from high action and visual comedy, to a family drama and a stark depiction of suicide. It’s a book that doesn’t mince words about its serious content – even if the characters might mince words, in order to avoid talking about the issue. The story opens with Scott Free, the titular hero, attempting suicide, yet he does not discuss the attempt with his wife, Big Barda, until issue #10 of the story. Instead, it hangs like a looming cloud, the elephant in the room that is pervasive throughout the entire story. Of course, there’s another name to the depression that Scott feels, too.
Visually, that depression is expressed astonishingly vividly with Mitch Gerads’ wonderful artwork. From his psychedelic colouring on the brutal landscape of Apokolips to the chilling glitch effects he sprinkles around the book (and doing this all with 9 panels each page), you could tell that Gerads was giving this book everything he had. It’s a perfect example of how much a comic stands out when it embraces its nature as a collaborative medium, and it feels just as much of a personal story for Gerads as it does for King. My favourite part of Gerads’ art, however, is his character work. Comics are commonly known for portraying every character as nothing short of a model, where every panel is a new, dynamic pose: impossible standards for many people to achieve. In Mister Miracle, characters are the inverse of this in the best possible way. They are still active, fit characters performing wonderful stunts in delightful action scenes, but you feel like they are people you could know: Gerads portrays the rolls of fat you might get when you sit down, the gross expression you might make during a fight, and the moments in between photos, where you might have tilted your head the wrong way to show off your chin at a bad angle. This is particularly evident when the reader experiences the home life of Scott Free and Big Barda – no matter if they’re dressed up in their best clothes, or lying on the couch and feeling gross, they always look at each other with the same passion and affection as they might in their best moments. It’s the perfect way to make the story feel grounded, despite its impressive scale, and I have nothing but praises for Gerads’ work in the story.
When I started reading the story, I was a little confused: Mister Miracle was said to be in-continuity to the larger DC Comics canon, yet it did not seem to fit before or after any story that I was aware of. In truth, it still doesn’t – though by the end of the story, you do get a ballpark of when it might take place. This honestly works to the story’s benefit, as it has a justification as to why this is the case (that ties into Tom King’s message at the end of the story). The use of Kirby’s Fourth World is somewhat awkward: knowing too little about the story might make the premise confusing, and yet knowing too much might betray that many of the “New Gods” in Mister Miracle are acting somewhat out-of-character. This too is remedied by the addition of a prologue, illustrated by Mike Norton, recapping the important details of Mister Miracle’s life before the events of the comic. This, I believe, precedes the rest of the graphic novel, and it’s a useful and valuable addition to the story, that helps set the scene for unfamiliar readers.
I mentioned earlier that I believed some of the “Fourth World” characters did not seem to act like their normal selves, from Orion’s stuck-up attitude to Big Barda’s abusive tendencies – there are several scenes that would not fly if the power dynamic was reversed, such as Barda slapping Scott to the floor and destroying things in anger (the side-lining of Barda’s issues is one of my biggest complaints of the book, despite her being an excellent character). While there is a justification for this within the story, it can sometimes feel like Tom King changes characters to fit his larger narrative, rather than stay true to their usual personalities. While I feel this is a much bigger problem in comics such as Batman and Heroes in Crisis – works of Tom King’s that I strongly dislike – most of the characters are obscure enough for it to work here. These complaints start to fade when you get deeper into the story, and when you realize how deeply personal of a tale this must be for King. It often feels like King is speaking to the audience through his characters in one way or another, so when you read Scott’s perspective on depression – represented by the all-seeing evil of the story, Darkseid – you feel a connection with King, thanks to what feels like a very honest representation of Scott’s inner turmoils. That isn’t to say that Scott acts as a stand-in for King, but the best writers write what they know; thus, when you’re treated to an uncomfortably real take on suicidal depression like in Mister Miracle, you feel like you might understand King’s mindset when approaching the book. This, I think, is the biggest similarity that this book has to Watchmen: it is less of the be-all and end-all of its subject matter, just as Watchmen was never meant to be the superhero story to end all superhero stories… but it portrays an insight to how the writer sees the world, even if you disagree, and asks you to travel along with them, and gain a bit of understanding along the way.
My respect for Mister Miracle increased significantly in 2018, when I was personally hit with a bout of extreme depression. Rereading issue #1, a book that I initially thought was “decent”, I felt a much deeper connection with the character of Scott, the imagery and tone of the story, and, I like to think, the creators behind it. While I strongly disagree with the implications of the ending, Tom King and Mitch Gerads take us on a fascinating, gut-punching journey there for 12 all issues… so, by the time I did read the ending, I understood why it was written that way. I don’t know if I think it was the greatest book of 2017/18, but I do think it’s required reading: you will not find many books that offer a more personal insight into depression, or a more excellent example of narrative voice.
Also, there’s a scene where Mister Miracle’s ding-dong is out. A+.
Mister Miracle is out as a full collection right now at Greenlight Comics. Snag it as soon as you can, and an order can be placed for you if it’s sold out!