“He cheats death! He defies man! NO TRAP CAN HOLD HIM!”
In our previous post, we’ve had a solid, pretty thorough look at the background of the person called Scott Free; now let’s examine the hero named Mister Miracle!
The original Mister Miracle was Thaddeus Brown, the renowned escape artist also known as The Great Thaddeus, and, as best as can be ascertained, has performed his death-defying act before audiences decades prior to the events of our current episode. Recently he has decided to stage a comeback, divising bigger and deadlier traps from which to escape. But time is catching up with the showman, enough so that his longtime faithful assistant Oberon fears for the old man’s ability. “Be content with your past greatness! — During these years of inactivity — time has passed you by!” But Thaddeus will have none of it.
Mister Miracle is an alter ego created by Thaddeus’ “late” son, Ted (whom we will later learn is quite alive, despite his father telling a visitor Ted was killed in the Korean War), complete with colorful costume and huge cape (looking at the get-up, the visitor speculates “Ted must have been a great fan of Superman!“). Thaddeus explains, “It wall all Ted’s idea! He created Mister Miracle — and brought the art of escape into a new decade!”
But Thaddeus Brown’s comeback is cut short by a sniper’s bullet and his mantle is handed over to a newcomer who had just happened to be passing (one would assume) the Brown household the day prior. The young man, dressed in tie and jacket and carrying a carpetbag, was just in time to witness The Great Thaddeus rehearse a dangerous stunt, in full dress as Mister Miracle. Being bound in a metal contraption, Thaddeus tells Oberon, “We must give a flawless performance for that young onlooker!”
When things seem to go wrong (things always appear to go wrong when Mister Miracle performs — that’s part of his appeal!), the passerby jumps the fence and intercedes to help, but Thaddeus does escape on his own. Introductions are made. “As for you, my boy,” Thaddeus greets the stranger, “Yours is a rare species these days! My name is really Thaddeus Brown — and I’m in your debt!”
“Surely, you’re joking,” the young man rejoins. “I was quite ineffectual! However, I’m glad you’re safe! My name is Scott — Scott Free!”
Thaddeus smiles and says, “Ha –! I don’t believe it! Scott Free, eh? Ha! Ha! Ha! Forgive me, boy! but that name does evoke a reaction.”
Yes, the unassuming stranger is the same Scott Free who has recently fled his adopted world of Apokolips, unwittingly breaking The Pact and reigniting the conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips. The incredible coincidences stretch credulity and one can’t help but surmise that more than fate is in play here, given Scott’s prior tutoring in the escape arts by Himon on Apokolips and need for a vocation, never mind refuge from the agents of Darkseid prowling Earth in search of him… Let’s just say the fact Scott Free is passing by this particular suburban house at just the right moment is fortuitous beyond measure and ya might as well credit destiny. (Me, I still think this is all planned on Scott’s part — he needs a hideout, a new identity, a way to make money using his abilities… now, how he protected the cover of anonymity, well, maybe not so well, but he did start with a plan… or so says I!)
Upon avenging Thaddeus Brown by seeing his killer brought to justice, the young man assumes the role of a master escape artist with Oberon’s blessing, taking sanctuary in Thaddeus’ home and donning the costume of Mister Miracle. No doubt the tiny assistant can see in the newcomer’s bag of tricks gadgets that can perform miracles, as well observe the young man’s charm and wondrous abilities, and decides there might be a good life to be had in this escape game with a performer like Scott Free.
Let’s now have a peek into Scott’s carpetbag: When Scott respectfully suggests that the Great Thaddeus think all of his act through and Oberon surmises Scott might be a genius, he replies, “I’m not a genius, sir, but I think I do have a bag of new tricks!” And it seems there are wondrous items therein and Thaddeus asks Scott from whence they came. “My inheritance, that is all, sir! Things left with a foundling by parties unknown!” The young man tells the old escape artist this is a new era: “‘Gadgets,’ sir! This is an age of gadgets — they work on gases — liquids and solids –”
Among the Mister Miracle gizmos in the series:
• Intense Magnetic Repulsion device (causing chains to fly apart)
• Hyper-Sound Intensifiers (breaking metal chains when bound to a missile) and Retro-Jet Back Pack
• Compact cloth Cocoon Spinner
• Pseudo-Unit/Follower (artificial human which copies movements)
• The multi-purpose Multi-Cube (one component is miniature laser beam, another sprays a destructive corrosive, sends out strong electro-sonic signal
• Laser-jets in boot soles
• Handy-dandy ejection seat
• Large Fibroid Cocoon (shock-resistant, heat-resistant, expandable)
• Anti-Grav gimmicks
• Ability to create small fission blast from hidden circuits
• Boot and finger lasers
• Invisible glove studs (generates enormous electric power to send through walls of house; transmits micro-electric waves through eyes)
• Beam neutralizes fuse in grenade
• Circuitry to track subject
• Circuitry to destroy ordnance
• Glove delivers violent shock blast
At one point Scott relies on his sophisticated wiring to such a degree, he say, “I can activate my circuitry almost without thinking!”
But two of his absolute coolest gadgets deserve special mention here:
Mister Miracle’s Aero-Discs: Earned by Scott during his training as an Aero-Trooper on Apokolips (“As a former candidate for Granny’s flight troops, I earned these!”), these nondescript metallic cylinders, each a fraction of an inch thick, give the hero the ability to fly through the air standing up, a graceful and imposing sight. It’s obvious, in “Himon,” that Scott took the transport mechanisms with him when he escaped via Boom Tube to Earth, but late in the series, in #15, Mister Miracle makes a curious comment when flying with Barda, she on her own pair:
Barda: There’s more than one way to follow a quarry –! These Aero-Discs are perfect for the job, Mister Miracle!
Mister Miracle: I built these for the act, Barda. Where we grew up, the Anti-Grav vehicle is as common as an Earth automobile.
What’s that all about? (And what’s with the use of the lowly period punctuation instead of multiple exclamation points, eh???!!!)
But the greatest of all devices is Scott Free’s Mother Box, a gift from her creator Himon, and a life-saver throughout the series. (“Well — there’s Mother Box! She HELPS — but she doesn’t do it all! But no one can build her!! She must be earned!!“) As we’ve found in the earlier entry devoted exclusively to the Mother Box, a miraculous contraption held by many of New Genesis and some on Apokolips, Mother Box is a sentient computer who has emotions and rudimentarily communicates via pings, can sooth and heal its possessor, and perform any number of amazing feats. It can also die.
When first we see Scott’s beloved friend, he uses it to ease fatally struck Thaddeus into the hereafter. The original Mister Miracle’s last words are, “What is it — I hear — a sound — a voice — comforting, easing — the pain is — gone –” as Scott’s device softly pings to the dying man. “It looks like a box — but it has a strange power to it –” Scott tells Oberon. Mother Box can also kill, as she destroys Overlord after almost being killed herself, and later, helps her master avoid being impaled when a metal bar is jammed through a trunk where our hero is trapped.
There’s a remarkable occurrence when after she is almost fried by Overlord, Scott performs a ritual to revive her, as he sits cross-legged concentrating completely on her well-being:
Scott: I-I haven’t explained Mother Box to you, Oberon — But she is dear to me — and I must help her!
Oberon: Y-you mean that thing — is alive?
Scott: In a way, she is! But, now, she’s hurt — weak — I must pour out my love — my belief — to make her respond!
When poor Mother Box is completely fritzed by Doctor Bedlam, Scott duplicates her circuits inside of his hood and tricks Bedlam who is encased in an “electronic web of micro-cosmic atoms.” Unfortunately, from thereon in, virtually no reference is made to her, now just a bunch of wiring and microchips inside the mask of Mister Miracle. An ignoble fate, but she was really something in her day, she was!
Instead of describing the retinue of villains and descriptions of his death-defying escapes (which we’ll all get to anyway if you stick with 365JK4W!), allow me to point out some important aspects of Mister Miracle worth inspection:
Scott and Barda: A Love Story — A wonderfully satisfying development in Mister Miracle is the growing romance of the title character and Big Barda, one of the most effervescent — and original — femmes ever to grace the comic book page. (Suffice to say, there’s a big entry on this delightful Special Power Force soldier when we get to her!) In the beginning, while we may have sensed a bit more affection between the two than might be usual between military cadets, Scott and Barda were typically shown as comrades, albeit very close soldiers in arms. In a memorable exchange prior to the return to Apokolips storyline:
Scott: More than that, Barda! Living, or dead — you and I are proof to all of Apokolips — that it can fall!!
Barda: Well, then!! Victory before the battle leaves little left but to enjoy it!! Let’s tear the top off Apokolips!
It’s around that time when readers could sense the couple was falling in love, but we didn’t know for sure until the Great Thaddeus’ son Ted boldly asks Barda the question: “Tell me — are you in love with Mister Miracle, Barda?” Barda replies, “Until now — I-I never gave it much thought!” But we knew all along, didn’t we…?
Still, we’d have to wait until the final issue, when the pair are in a veritable foxhole under fire for the big clinch to finally happen. Huddled in a earthen tunnel, their forms up next to one another, the bees start to fly and the birds start to sing:
Barda: Sweet fool! That was a close call! Why didn’t you leave me?
Scott: The answer is simple — now. I love you, Barda — I can’t live without you —
Barda: Strange — I feel the same way about you —
Scott: We’ve both been fools, Barda — we’ve wasted precious time —
Barda: Yes. We’ve spent our time on all the things that don’t count! [They kiss]
Scott: Then, let’s do something that does count! Let’s get married! Right away!
This being a Jack Kirby-catered wedding, you can imagine the guests, never mind the agenda! In a beautiful scene, we see our old friends Orion, Lightray and Metron for the first time in many months (as Mister MIracle had basically become a non-Fourth World title beginning a year or so prior, at the time the other titles were cancelled), and Orion says, “Here, in a gathering of our enemies, The Source has decreed that a wedding take place!” Scott Free’s own father is there — Highfather — who officiates:
Highfather: So it must be! … This cannot be stopped! The Source has sanctioned this marriage in words of fire! When I touch you both with the Wonder Staff, The Source shall make you as one!
Barda: I am eternal with Scott Free!
Scott: I am eternal with Barda.
Highfather: Thus, it is done!
What a way to end the series!
What I have so failed to mention is the irresistible charm of Mister Miracle, both as a flamboyant, colorful swashbuckler of a super-hero and as a somewhat atypical personality for comics. Scott Free exudes a sincerity and grace that, for this writer at least, rings especially true, resonantly so. American comic books of the costumed character variety had become accursed with the advent of “camp” — [American Heritage Dictionary: camp n. 1. An affectation or appreciation of manners and tastes commonly thought to be outlandish, vulgar, or banal. 2. Banality or artificiality, when appreciated for its humor. —adj. Having the qualities or style of camp. … To act in an outlandish or effeminate manner. [Origin obscure.] — camp’y adj.] — which had rigid, square-jawed hyper-muscled Boy Scouts mouthing pithy homilies with a vastly out-dated “Aww, shucks” faux humility (“Just doing my duty, ma’am!”). And the mainstream comics’ reaction to the teevee show Batman and its wake of damage, coupled with the iconoclastic sentiment of an increasingly cynical and pessimistic society, was the advent of the anti-hero in the medium, particularly in the form of the former Caped Crusader and now Darknight Detective. But Mister Miracle, for all of his nuttiness in voluntarily facing death time and time again, is authentically humble and quite well-mannered, astonishing attributes for a character who has been raised in what might as well be Torquemada’s persuasion chambers.
From the very start of our saga, Scott Free exudes deference and respect to those who deserve the courtesies: The young man tells Thaddeus Brown and Oberon, “Meeting you both has been a unique experience!” and is especially kind to his new companion, the devoted Oberon. When the assistant quizzes Scott on his alien upbringing and the son of Izaya struggles with the memory, sensitive Oberon kindly tells him, “There’s a haunting look of fear in your eyes — and pain! Say no more! I know you as a brave and sincere friend!” To that, Scott responds to the three-foot-nothing assistant, “Thank you, Oberon! You’re a big man — the kind one looks up to!”
During the pair’s nightmarish experience in the X-Pit, as the rising muck and gunk threaten to engulf Scott and Oberon, Mister Miracle is willing to sacrifice himself for the little person by holding up the newfound friend above his Super Escape Artist head. And yet, as we see in the conclusion of the same episode, Scott can drop his good manners to tell his old jailkeepers a thing or two: Having destroyed Granny Goodness’s beloved Overlord, our hero goes nose-to-nose with the harpy and brashly tells her, “And that brings me to my parting words!!! Dry up and blow away, Granny Goodness!” (Soon after, aloft on his Aero-Discs with his assistant riding his shoulders, Mister Miracle reflects, “Oberon — it took a lot of nerve to say that to a terror like Granny!” Amen to that!)
There are a few other instances of Scott being understandably ill-mannered to his former superiors — giving Virman a veritable Bronx Cheer by barking at the fake Prussian, “What if I tell you to go blow your nose!?!” — and to future allies — after first meeting the Apokolips rebel leader and Himon greets him as a “skinhead,” Scott boasts, “How dare you call me that? I’m an Aero-Trooper of Darkseid’s own elite! — but etiquette is not paramount with the Super Escape Artist. Rather, Scott believes greatly in fairness and honor.
More evidence of Scott’s grace come through with his immediate adoption of Shilo Norman, the kid-sidekick addition to the team late in the series. Not only is Mister Miracle kind and supportive while knowing the boy will be disobedient, but he’s adept at lifting Shilo’s confidence when the youngster needs it most: “You’ve got what it takes, Shilo,” says Scott. Coordination. “Courage. And standards of your own!” Shilo protests, “Have you taken a good look at me?” And Scott replies, “Yes –! I see me — as I once was — trying to escape to anywhere.” Barda adds, “And I helped him do it! I couldn’t fail him! I won’t fail you, Shilo. You see — I once lost a friend who couldn’t — escape!” (A remarkable statement, that last one by Barda, in that it references the torture and murder of Auralie quite a while after the series had been virtually stripped of the Fourth World backstory.)
Scott Free’s courtly manner can be downright comical at times: In his exchange with Kanto the Assassin and, quite a bit later, when the team checks into a sketchy hotel. Scott tells the stoic and somewhat unhelpful innkeeper, “You’ve been very helpful. The gang and I appreciate it…! … The room is comfortable — the service delightful — and now, we bid you good night …!” and Mister Miracle even gives a low bow to the dastardly hotel manager and reffering to him as a “charming fellow”! (Truth be told, the Super Escape Artist does tell the scoundrel what he really think, as our hero bops the innkeeper on the nose, “And now, I’d like to show you what I think of your hospitality!” ZOK!)
When Granny’s officer Virman Vundabar snifs at Barda, “Great Darkseid rules Apokolips like a colossus!! His is the creed of destruction! — not fair play!” it is a perfect juxtaposition of just why Scott Free is so very out of place in his adopted world. Y’see, if Mister Miracle is about anything, he’s about a righteous, almost pathological devotion to fair play. The cover blurb on #1, I think, is wrong: The character doesn’t cheat death; he just beats it fair and square, time and time again!
Engaged in a death match, in the Id world of The Lump, rather than boast the usual Marvel super-hero “I’m gonna thrash your hiney” exclamations, Mister Miracle pleads for a peaceful resolution: “Look here, Lump! I’ve submitted to ‘Trial by Combat,’ but the choice of this battleground was not mine!” But the pink-pigmented monstrosity isn’t listening, “This is my world! My world! Here, I live! Here I’m free!!” But Scott persists, “Believe me! I-I understand! Perhaps if we both remain cool we can reach an honorable solution!” But Scott’s rationality does not sway the tragic creature.
Scott Free fervently believes in righteous behavior despite being taught despicable values. His belief system is all about doing the right thing and doing things right. While he grabs Stuka’s gun and boasts to his first adversary as super-hero, “The age of miracles isn’t over yet, Steel Hand!” Mister Miracle doesn’t shoot his enemy (though momentarily strikes a pose similar to the one Jack used in his initial pitch of the character — seen below — when the creator envisioned the character wielding a weapon), and in fact just chucks it away!
And the Master of the Holocaust’s hierarchy knows full well of Scott’s sense of duty and honor, as Doctor Bedlam barks at him, “Scott Free! In the name of the great Darkseid, ruler of all life on Apokolips — surrender yourself for punishment — or die in the trap I’ve been empowered to devise!” And, talking to the bad doctor on the phone, Scott can adopt a pose of military formality, this after he’s already escaped from Apokolips: “Hello! This is Scott Free! State your terms for battle, Doctor Bedlam!”
(And Mister Miracle also expects his ex-superiors to adhere to proper rules of engagement: When Bedlam holds forth his diabolical “Paranoid Pill,” Scott declares, “”You cannot tranquilize an adversary! He must be equally aware, to take full advantage of what weapons he possesses!” The Super Escape Artist insists that his friends, too, exhibit righteous behavior, as he tells his companion — about to throttle Granny — “No, Barda! You mustn’t!! … I’ve won my trial by combat!”)
Scott has a code of conduct at home, as well, telling his future wife, who has been bickering with Oberon, “This is a house of friends, Barda! The strong don’t rule here!” And his professional ethics are discussed in an amusing moment with Oberon. When his assistant insists on hearing how Scott escaped a certain-death trap, Scott replies, “I-it just isn’t cricket for Mister Miracle to reveal his amazing secrets!” a declaration immediately followed by a blow-by-blow description of the hero’s efforts under the guise of coy suppositions.
Before we end, allow me to discuss Scott’s healthy self-esteem and ego, remarkable attributes for the former orphan who grew in an emotionally desolate environment. For kicks, here is a collection of his boasts throughout the series:
“Having inherited this escape-act from the original Mister Miracle, I must constantly devise newer and more exciting improvisations!”
“Why, any escape-artist could make short work of those rope! But it takes a master to play it that close and cool! Sometimes the best performances are lost on the wrong audience!”
“It was indeed a time to panic! But was Mister Miracle that type? Suppose he wasn’t! Suppose he coolly inched his bound hands…”
“Sorry to frustrate you, Lump! But cheating death is my business!”
“Never lose confidence in one who knows his trade, Barda!”
“Barda and I are special people! — With special powers!”
“You forget, Virman! I’m still the fastest moving target there is!”
While we are privy, upon reading “The Pact” that Scott Free is the son of Izaya the Inheritor — the supreme leader of New Genesis, Highfather himself — there’s never an indication, in the entire series, that Scott knows of his august heritage. Yes, Highfather does perform the marriage ceremony for his son and Big Barda, but ne’er a hint is given that he is father of the groom. And, come to think of it, while each of the new gods on Scott’s birth planet seem to show aptitude for fantastic powers, Scott Free possess relatively mundane abilities. Yes, his timing and physical agility is extraordinary by Earth standards, and his grace under fire exemplary, but couldn’t that fairly be credited to his Aero-Trooper training on Apokolips as well as the brutal tutelage of Granny and her Happiness Home flunkies? Certainly he’s smart, clever and resourceful, but Scott is nowhere near Metron’s class on the intellect scale… No, Scott can’t measure up to the residents of Supertown when it comes to the physical and mental realms. I think, maybe, his is the power of the heart, resolved to live his life in complete defiance of fear and death, loving and loyal to friends, compassionate and caring to whomever seeks his help. For all the horrors Scott has suffered — mother killed, abandoned by his father, a brutal upbringing in Granny’s hellish institution, savagely beaten and ostracized by his peers, finally finding a place to belong in Himon’s sanctuary only to have it destroyed, realizing the implications of Auralie’s ruthless murder (that there never will be no room for individuality, beauty or art in Darkseid’s domain), nightmarish forces snapping at his heels to kill him — for all that, Scott Free remains hopeful, optimistic and a man of the heart, unafraid to show love, unafraid to stand up to evil, unafraid to believe in a better universe. Unafraid.
My love of Jack Kirby the man, as well as the artist, prompts me to search for autobiographical hints and shadows in his work, and I find it in the classic romance story “Different,” in Benjamin Grimm and his tribulations with the Yancy Street Gang, in Orion’s internal fury and external beauty… I discover hints of it everywhere in his endeavors, often minute, sometimes writ large; but the character of Mister Miracle — more properly, Scott Free — strikes me as being the most autobiographical of characters, if you will. Jack escaped from the slums of the Lower East Side and was compelled to be an individual by finding and being himself by his art. Always beset by adversity, as we all are in one way or another, he preservers, consistently striving to be better by transforming the gritty violence and destitution of his youth into exquisite and meaningful self-expression… no mean feat in a commercial field. Coming into this world with nothing and leaving our earthly plane after having given so much. Well, if that’s not a miracle…
In its latter days under Kirby, the Mister Miracle title did become pretty much a placeholder for the Fourth World, with little continuance of it until the final issue of the original run. It is rather ironic, then, that the second of the two black-&-white volumes collecting Kirby’s Mister Miracle — issued by DC in 2001 — and therefore containing the least Fourth-World associated stories, was titled Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. (The first volume, issued three years earlier, was the far more aptly titled Jack Kirby’s Mister Miracle.)