WELL, Amazon may have e-mailed to tell me that, though they’ve been taking preorders since last year, they suddenly don’t know when they’ll be getting in copies of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World vol. 4, but my look at later additions to Kirby’s saga continues:
|Mister Miracle vol. 2 #6
By Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis and Mike McKone
DC Comics, 1989 – saddle-stitched, $1.00
|Justice League Special #1 Featuring Mister Miracle
By Keith Giffen, Len Wein and Joe Phillips
DC Comics, 1990 – saddle-stiched, $1.50
While last time’s review was of a special Kirby tribute, these two Mister Miracle issues fit into the character’s regular status quo circa the late-’80s, early-’90s. At the time, that status quo seems to have been largely dictated by Miracle’s membership in the Justice League International, and appropriately these are both plotted by League mastermind Keith Giffen, with scripting and pencils on Mister Miracle #6 by JLI’s J.M. DeMatteis and occasional JLI artist (including the famous “Justice League Antarctica” story from JLI Annual #4), Mike McKone. I have a lot of affection for Giffen and DeMatteis’ “bwahaha” League, and readers and editors of the day must have liked it, too, because the series had pretty much stopped having serious plots by this point and, boy, did everything else they touched around the time get the same treatment.
Launching two years after Mister Miracle––AKA Scott Free––joined the JLI, I can only assume that this series came about because of the connection. Kirby had always set up Scott and his wife, Barda, as rejecting roles in the war between Gods, content to stay on earth and devote themselves to Scott’s life as an escape artist. Here it’s taken even further, with the two living a domestic life in the suburbs, trying to keep their new life and Scott’s role in the Justice League as far apart as possible. Now retired, Scott runs a repair shop, using New Genesis technology to fix people’s appliances. Barda appears to be a housewife.
It’s pretty much a sitcom premise and, while it’s hard to get a sense of the series from an issue by fill-in writers, from a glance at the letters column and next issue blurb, the series takes that approach even when Giffen and DeMatteis aren’t writing. For their issue, they do a “wacky friend comes to visit” plot, with the League sending the annoying, dog-like Green Lantern, G’Nort, to help them out when the mob targets their small town. It’s about as cheesy as you might expect, with both some painful jokes and some pretty funny jokes. Some of the funniest material comes from the incongruity of Big Barda confined to homemaking, as when she stands in the living room telling Scott, “I would have picked them apart––then fed their carcasses to the vultures!” When she later calls Scott to tell him she’s been attacked by a mobster trying to send him a message, Scott’s first response is, “My God––Is he all right?!”
G’Nort is a fairly one-joke character. He can work in small doses, but taking center stage as he does here shows that he doesn’t have much going on. His repeated listing of all the ways people have rejected him gets tired, though his mix of human and dog characteristics can be funny, as when he apologizes to Oberon for having chewed on his slippers. I’m always amused by Mike McKone’s depiction of him––his face is mostly dog, but with a long human-like nose. McKone’s work is strong as always. He and fellow League artist Kevin Maguire are very gifted when it comes to facial expressions, giving life to even some of Giffen and DeMatteis’ corniest jokes, jokes that would fall flat with different artists. Other than that, he recognizes that this is a book driven by verbal comedy and gets out of the way, keeping page layouts clear and maintaining interest in extended dialogue scenes.
Six months later, Scott is back in the escape artist game, with a world tour kicking off in Justice League Special #1. Despite the title, it’s really an extra Mister Miracle issue guest-starring the League, so it gets a script and pencils by the book’s regular team of Len Wein and Joe Phillips, working from Giffen’s plot. Unlike Giffen and DeMatteis’ Mister Miracle #6, it doesn’t stand alone, incorporating plot threads from both JLI and Mister Miracle, and introducing new storylines to each.
I can’t remember if Scott actually had much of a role in the League at this point, between his busy schedule of fixing toasters and putting on performances––not that the League is all that busy, either, spending most of the issue attending Scott’s show, and later facing (that is, talking to) Manga Khan, the intergalactic bargainer who has shown up to add some cosmic stops to Scott’s tour. Whereas he had previously kidnapped Scott, this time he gets his participation through a sneaky contract. It’s not particularly urgent stuff, feeling mostly like set-up. More entertaining are the usual character moments from this incarnation of the League, though Wein’s one-liners aren’t as snappy as DeMatteis’.
Of greatest historical interest is the presence of Funky Flashman, a huckster introduced by Kirby in the original Mister Miracle #6, and appearing to be a parody of Stan Lee. If that was ever really in question, it certainly isn’t here, with Funky referring to most everyone as “Faithful One” or “True Believer.” How much of this is the need many creators who work with Fourth World characters seem to have to include as many obscure characters as possible and how much is Wein, the third editor-in-chief of the Marvel heroes line, razzing his predecessor, I have no idea. He’s written a tad flatly, but nice visual bits of business like spreading caviar on Oreos help give him more character––though a little static, Joe Phillips’ art is pleasant and full of this kind of attention to detail.
Of all of Kirby’s Fourth World characters, Mister Miracle and Big Barda are the ones that have most often been removed from their original setting. With abilities more in line with standard superheroes and living on Earth, it’s not hard to see why this has been done, but they lose something stripped of context. As deserters in the war between New Genesis and Apokolips, they are most interesting when existing in contrast to those still fighting it. Placed either in the Legaue or a sitcom, they’re more pedestrian, simultaneously too much like everyone else and a bit out of place. These two issues are amusing, and if you like this era of the Justice League like I do, you won’t be able to help but enjoy them (though neither are among the better issues of the time), but viewed against other Fourth World revivals, they’re less successful than those that have stuck with their milieu and depended less on the rest of the DC Universe.
Kirby Continued part 2