Category Archives: Mister Miracle #1

Mister Miracle #1

Cooke Look: “The Missile Murder Trap!”

I’ll admit I considered Mister Miracle #1 a slight disappointment when first I cracked open that comic book at the time. The contrivances and coincidences kinda put me off, but I was darn glad the character costume’s color scheme was changed between the time the interior was colored and when tints were added to the cover… I mean, c’mon! Mister Miracle sports a great costume design! And nice as the purple-green-&-yellow is in the story itself, the cover and subsequent series’ red-green-&-yellow is simply the best color combination of any super-hero, beating out the original Captain Marvel’s (sans green) red-&-gold… sigh! And I can’t say enough about the fancy cape and, especially, the superb mask design (particularly when it didn’t indicate Scott’s nose or show his pupils but just the sideways-ankh-shaped motif about the eye-slits)…

But as for the content, the story doesn’t have the same energy and confidence as the other Fourth World debut issues, but in retrospect that makes the series even more remarkable because the title expanded and changed as it went along during its 18-issue run, the longest of Jack’s 4W books. And if we thought Scott Free was a slightly corny character to start, so deferential to old man Thaddeus and seemingly bland and unassuming (with very hip sideburns though!), so apparently simple and average, we would become surprised how remarkably well-adjusted the young man ended up as we learned more about his hellacious background.

Indeed it’s what the title grew to become which endears this particular issue to me. This is Dorothy back at the farm, so to speak, before the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy Gale before Oz and the Wizard; Scott Free before Apokolips and Darkseid. (Not literally, of course, but in the reader’s eye, if you know what I’m saying.) And those coincidences I mentioned raise tantalizing questions in me that delight rather than frustrate. Did Scott choose to be at the fence observing The Great Thaddeus at just that moment when Inter-Gang arrives (as Richard Bensam suggests in a reply on this blog)? Was Scott planning to assume Thaddeus Brown’s identity from the start, albeit likely not as the result of murder, of course! Is Scott in the country, walking on foot with carpetbag in hand — gawd, I love the idea of this super-scientific “eternal” carrying around an artifact from the 19th century, the much-maligned carpetbag! — to get distance from the city and hide from Darkseid’s agents looking to capture him and return to Apokolips? I know, I know, I’ve asked these questions earlier, but they’re fun to contemplate because the series did, indeed and in very short order, started weaving into a delightfully complex and rewarding tapestry, one that still leaves a whole bucket-full of questions. The biggest query of all being what did Jack ultimately intend for Scott Free? That is, the guy is a product of New Genesis, making him a “new god,” and he is one part of “The Pact,” his breaking of which started renewed war with Apokolips and spreading it to Earth… I mean, he’s a huge player and yet he seems like a (deceptively?) simple character, the most Earth-like of anyone from Highfather’s world.

I’ll stop yammering except to say I’m pretty happy that I was underwhelmed with Mister Mister #1. My little brother, Andy, picked this title at the time to be his Fourth World favorite (I liked The New Gods and Jimmy Olsen pretty much equally as my personal fave) and I understand why now: Mister Miracle is simply Jack’s purest super-hero created for the epic. He’s a conventional crime-fighter in some ways, yet refreshingly innovative, given the escape artist angle. He’s a nice guy, a friend to many, and he surrounds himself with people he cares for and who care for him. In other words, he’s a great role model and eminently pleasant character, almost totally out of tune with that era of the emerging anti-hero and yet perfect for that time with his hippy-like attitudes… Jack, you did it again!

Day 73: The Big Trap!

Yeah, I know: Previously in this debut issue of Mister Miracle, the “Big Trap” referred to is Thaddeus Brown’s act to escape the huge metal sphere barreling down to destroy the former “Great Thaddeus” bound to a tree, but nemesis Steel Hand’s idea is even a bigger threat. After the gangster renders the “Robo-Arm Wrestler” into scrap metal, Scott Free in the guise of Mister Miracle jumps through the Inter-Gang crime boss’s window and accosts Stuka, grabbing the henchman’s pistol out of his holster. Steel Hand yelps, “You! I-I don’t believe it! Y-you’re dead — dead!” Scott quips, “The Age of Miracles isn’t over yet, Steel Hand! Look again!

Thinking Scott Free is the late, great Thaddeus Brown, Steel Hand is incredulous. “But it isn’t possible! I saw you put down for the long count! I was there!” Scott, pointing Stuka’s handgun at the kingpin, replies, “I’ll bet you were!” (And clever wagering-themed retorts aside, Steel Hand was at the tragic event when the original Mister Miracle is struck down by a sniper’s bullet by direct order of the gangster!) “Get wise, Mister Miracle! Forget about our bet!” says Steel Hand, at which Scott replies, “Not a chance! It isn’t the money I want to win now — If I can get out of a trap you set, I claim your written confession to the shooting!”

(In the middle of Scott’s last statement, in a great bit, our hero cavalierly tosses Stuka’s weapon over his shoulder, which (intentional or not on Jack’s part) is a nice commentary on the super-hero’s development from presentation to actual comic book. Y’see, if you look at Jack’s concept drawing at the bottom of our “Day 70: Mister Miracle!” entry, you’ll see that the creator envisioned the character as sporting a futuristic pistol and holster, and this chucking away the handgun in issue one works for me as a “Who needs a gun when I have my wits?” type statement… Well, I dig it anyway…!)

Steel Hand summons his goons, who are astonished to see a walking, talking Mister Miracle (“The guy’s a hoodoo!!” yammers one), and they render Scott unconscious with a whack to the head with a rifle butt. “Good work!” Steel Hand tells his boys. “I’ll take over now!” Apparently anticipating the boss’s next move, a minion asks, “Why don’t you use your steel hand on him? He’ll never live through that!” The head honcho has another idea. “No! It’s time he gets what he asked for — an escape-proof trap!” (In hindsight, if only the big guy had listened to the underling, eh?)

This was the trap I was preparing before I soured on the wager…,” explains Steel Hand, who then picks up a telephone and asks (from the Inter-Gang switchboard, I reckon!), “Hello! Get me the secret Inter-Gang missile site!” Apparently the launch pad can be reserved on short notice, as within minimal time, gang members are at the controls of an imposing rocket, one thug noting that Steel Hand has ordered an immediate launch. Mister Miracle is then bound to the missile’s cone by captors who say, “Hurry, men! The rocket nose has been specially constructed with anchors for the chains!” and “Tie him tight! Make sure he can’t move! He’s coming to — Clear the launch area! Countdown has started!

Scott gains consciousness as the countdown ensues, thinking, “So! This is the ‘Big Trap!’ — clever — There’s no return from space –!” Then, somehow, seconds before liftoff, Scott is able to manipulate his still-chained hands together — which were stretched out to his left and right, respectively, when we see him chained by the baddies — and generate a crackling electrical charge by touching his index fingers together… (see, Scott Free is a man of miracles!).

The rocket takes off skyward and suddenly explodes, and Steel Hand, for the second time, is confident his enemy is finally dead… The relieved crime boss opens his office door to — urk! — find Mister Miracle sitting in Steel Hand’s chair! In a rage, the villain completely obliterates his own digs as he tries to karate-chop the dodging super escape artist. “Now, Mister Miracle,” says the bad guy, “You’ve just about ‘had it!‘ I don’t know how you got free of that missile — But –” Scott interrupts and responds, “I can show you how I might have done it, Steel Hand — I might have hidden Hyper-Sound Intensifiers in my gloves to break the metal chains,” and with a ZZAAAK he touches his fingers together and replicates the effect, only this time zapping his nemesis’s metal appendage! “See what sound waves do to your steel hand!” gloats Scott.

And, as is his wont, Mister Miracle continues to describe how he “might have” accomplished his escape from The Big Trap: “Perhaps I used miniature retro-jets to blast free of the missile!” And, yes, Scott gives an example, using the propulsion to fly across the room and, after socking Steel Hand in the jaw, continues to give away trade secrets by whipping out a small, cube-like device that is instantaneously pumping out lengths of synthetic fabric: “And a Compact Cocoon Spinner — which turns out yards of plastic material at fantastic speeds — it may have made a chute for me — but it will wrap you up in a package — for the law!

Our long-winded hero then pushes a couple of buttons on his midrift which emit air bursts, bragging, “As for beating you to your office — like a lowly squid — I might have used air jets — to shoot myself across the city –” (Well, truth be told, if the ill-appreciated aquatic cephalopod lived in the atmosphere; otherwise it uses water jets, but I’m just being a nudge, huh?) With that, Steel Hand, completely wrapped in the sheets and propelled to the door where law enforcement and Oberon are arriving, Steel Hand is finished and our story just about complete.

(There’s an endearing quality to Scott coyly revealing how he “might have” escaped the perils in a good number of issues, typically at the end of each story in the first handful of adventures. Jack was developing a nice formula to the story round-ups, for Oberon and for the readers, all dying to learn how Scott defied death yet another time. Fun stuff!)

In closing, the pair watch the cops gather up an incapacitated Steel Hand. “You’ve got a great act, Scott!” Oberon says (oblivious to revealing the masked hero’s true identity in front of the police). “I’d be proud to assist you!”

The new Mister Miracle (who is apparently not facing charges of breaking and entering) replies, “Done, Oberon! From now on, we’re both part of Mister Miracle — Super Escape Artist!

Day 72: “Robo-Arm Wrestler”!

Having ordered and witnessed the assassination of The Great Thaddeus (because the crime boss doesn’t want to be seen by peers and underlings as a welsher or is it as a small-time bettor? I’m not precisely sure the root of the villain’s lethal insecurity), Steel Hand looks for some recreation time by exercising his super-powerful hand. His main henchman, Stuka, apparently an inventor as well as assistant, has created a nameless robot for arm-wrestling bouts with his boss. “Well, Stuka!” says Steel Hand, “I see you’ve built a new toy!”

Looking like a life-size Rockem Sockem Robot — a very imposing sight from across the table, no doubt — is Stuka’s creation, an automaton (albeit rather shortlived!) with right hand significantly larger than the kingpin’s.

“Just for you, chief!” replies Stuka, holding a small device. “He was expensive — but he may be a match for you!”

Yeah, I see what’cha mean! I can use a work-out for the steel hand!” says the Inter-Gang regional chief. (It’s an interesting visual here as Steel Hand is either putting on a glove or taking one off. In both the original comic and the Omnibus reprint, the hand is colored as skin and the glove white (or silver), begging the question is the transplanted appendage organic flesh — a human hand — that was mutated to possess super-strength, or is it a chrome-plated mechanical hand? I always assumed the latter, but this panel hints at another possibility. Or was he just wearing a glove to protect (or disguise) a prosthetic extremity and the scene is simply miscolored?)

After Stuka says, “He’s not made out of tin cans, boss… He can punch holes in a battleship,” and as Steel Hand snaps back a reply — “So can I!” — the head gangster orders the robot activated. Naturally, an arm wrestling bout ensues, and both man and machine battle for dominance. “Not bad, Not bad! He’s powerful, all right!” observes Steel Hand. Stuka suggests, as he is manipulating the “remote control gismo,” “Shall I ‘up’ the pressure?” Steel Hand replies, “Yeah! That’s it! I wouldn’t be surprised if he could crush a building! But my steel hand is something else again! Nothing can match its strength — No power on Earth!”

Then, with a “KRAK,” “CLINK” and “PLONK,” Steel Hand renders the “Robo-Arm Wrestler” utterly useless, its hand completely shattered into metal shards. “My steel hand has made me a giant, see?” says the Edward G. Robinson wannabe as he stokes up a cigar, “This was just child’s play!” Stuka, observing the remnants of his invention, sucks up to his employer, “No one but you could have done this, boss! This metal hand is a wreck!”

Then, with the final word on Steel Hand’s defeated mechanized adversary, the crime lord says, “Well, he was good for a laugh! You can junk him now!” What an ignominious fate for Stuka’s expensive device!

Just then, leaping through the window is a figure from beyond the grave arriving to haunt Steel Hand once again…

Day 71: Steel Hand!

The villain Jack Kirby created for the first adversary to tangle with Mister Miracle? It’s Inter-Gang mob boss Steel-Hand, who lost his right hand to a machine gun fuselage and now sports a radiation-powered appendage that can destroy some of the strongest metal on the planet!

We first learn of Steel Hand when, after Thaddeus Brown has escaped the burning shed, a bunch of thugs come by for a visit. “The new arrivals emerge from a car — moving with silent, evil assurance — symbols of organized crime in the Atomic Age…” The Great Thaddeus recognizes the crew: “These men are a division of Inter-Gang!” (We know — right? — that this criminal association does Darkseid’s nefarious bidding on our planet, so their appearance is certainly a stupendous coincidence!)

The mobsters pull out their weapons and a free-for-all ensues with Scott Free and his carpetbag initiating the fray, joining Thaddeus and Oberon in fending off the villains. The good-guy trio take down the baddies and Scott, helping an exhausted Thaddeus to his feet, says, “Are you all right, sir? Perhaps it was unwise of me to start this fracas –” Thaddeus retorts, “There — was no choice! They came here for this –”

Scott: I realize that I have no right to ask — but are you involved in some way with — Inter-Gang?

Thaddeus: Not with Inter-Gang, boy! — With their division chief in this area — Steel Hand!

The scene shifts to the villain’s Metropolis headquarters, where his left hand holds a cigar and right is snugged inside of a typical Kirby contraption, and his underling is reporting the fight. “Trouble? Trouble? With an old ‘has been’ and a dwarf? All they had to do was push them around a little!” But Steel Hand hears of Scott Free — “Fast — good with his fists –” The bespectacled criminal takes his hand out of the container to reveal an apparently solid-metal hand!

Steel-Hand’s origin begins when he was a two-bit nobody. The gangster squawks (with no one in the room), “Ha ha ha — To think I was once at the end of my rope — a sniveling little loser — with his hand blasted by a Tommy-gun — then came a turn of luck — in the hospital — that surgeon — experimenting with transplants –” He approaches a huge riveted metal block, raising his metallic fist above his head, continuing, “He gave me this new hand! I didn’t know its history — but with radiation treatments, it gained power — power! My life changed after that! I smashed my way into a top job at Inter-Gang! — Just as easily as I smash this great bar of solid titanium!” With that, Steel Hand slams his… ummm… steel hand to decimate the enormous object!

Jack’s next caption reads, “But despite his arrogance, Steel Hand fears the loss of his status!! Somehow, Mister Miracle is linked with that deep-rooted fear! — And, thus, a brutal decision is made!” So the kingpin calls his henchmen into the room and plots the end of the Super Escape Artist!

Steel Hand tells his goons (who have delightful names in this tale: Stuka is his first lieutenant, plus there’s Herky and Nails), “I’m taking personal charge of the Mister Miracle job!” and Herky and Nails (who knows which is which!) reply, “We know what that means!” and “Right! We’ll get you our best sniper!

The next day, Steel Hand is near the spot of “The Big Trap” with a hired assassin. “Soon, it will be over — and I can forget Mister Miracle. Before I lose face — he’ll lose his life!” Then, as the sniper’s telescopic sight zeroes in on Thaddeus, the crime boss gloats, “Goodbye, Mister Miracle. All bets are off!

As we are tragically aware, Thaddeus Brown is killed, leaving Oberon and Scott to grieve. Sobbing, the tiny assistant finally explains the Brown-Steel Hand connection: “Poor Thaddeus! If only he hadn’t been so desperate to make a come-back — He needed money to do that — money he didn’t have — That’s why he went to Steel Hand — to remind him of a longstanding wager –”

“Go on, Oberon –” Scott gently prods, “Tell me the rest –”

The little man relents: “Thaddeus met Steel Hand in a hospital, years ago. Both men had serious injuries… to pass the time they made the wager… Steel Hand boasted he could stop Thaddeus with an escape-proof trap!” Scott surmises aloud the bet was probably $10,000 and the two bettors shook hands. Oberon continues, “Yes — it was only recently that we saw Steel Hand’s picture in the newspaper! He’d come a long way — too notorious — too powerful — to ignore or lose a wager! But Thaddeus saw him again — and now — this!

Cut to a few days later, when Steel Hand arm wrestles and beats a robot opponent, only to have the new Mister Miracle jump in a window behind the bad guy. “You! I-I don’t believe it! Y-you’re dead — dead!” They tussle while Steel Hand’s goons are notified and the Super Escape Artist is knocked unconscious, only to be placed in jeopardy by his new nemesis. “This time he gets what he asked for — an escape-proof trap!” vows Steel Hand.

Scott is tied to a rocket (as it seems Steel Hand does have some pull as criminal mastermind, as he can reserve use of the “secret Inter-Gang missile site” simply by calling ahead!) and, of course, our hero appears to die as the missile explodes in mid-air. A henchman says, “Chief — if Mister Miracle come back from that — he won’t even be in shape to haunt a house!” Steel Hand offers, “He was a weird one, all right! But he was human! And humans don’t have nine lives! Steel Hand is still top man! Remember that, you birds!”

Steel Hand returns to his “lavish office” only to find Scott Free sitting at his desk. Steel Hand goes berserk and trashes the room. “The Steel Hand is no myth!” thinks Mister Miracle. “It’s the deadliest of weapons!” Then our hero turns the tables on the Inter-Gang division chief and captures him to be delivered at the feet of arriving policemen. “Thanks, Mister Miracle,” says one officer. “His conviction will wreck Inter-Gang’s Eastern operation!”

We never again see this peculiar villain in the series and he’s not much missed, hardly one of the top echelon in Jack’s Rogues Gallery, but Steel Hand getting his comeuppance is a hoot (I’ll describe it in full in the issue round-up and/or story synopsis)…

Day 70: Mister Miracle!

“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 voicecomforting, 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 lovemy 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 originalfemmes 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 Apokolipssurrender 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…

Day 69: Scott Free!

Scott Free, the son of Highfather and whose escape from the dominion of Darkseid was catalyst for the Super-War now raging, is arguably the focal point of the entire Fourth World saga. Born on the pastoral paradise of New Genesis and raised in the urban chamber of horrors called Apokolips, Scott has fled his adopted hellhole of a planet and assumed the identity of Mister Miracle, super escape artist, and calls Earth home. He is, it seems, a happy masochist, perpetually placing himself in exceedingly deadly situations, engaging with the most sadistic of villains and always — always — playing by the rules, whether earthly, celestial or deviant, no matter the odds stacked against him. He is indeed a man of miracles, quite possibly the ultimate savior of the two worlds of the new gods and, by saving his own skin innumerable times and defeating world-threatening foes and devices, a protector of Earth itself.

The story of Scott Free begins in the court of Darkseid, undisputed ruler of Apokolips. After years of conflict with neighboring New Genesis in the war called “The Great Clash,” the granite-face monarch needs a cease-fire to rebuild his world and set in motion a plan to not only rule Highfather’s planet, but to have dominion over all life in the universe. To that end, a bargain is struck between the two leaders — The Pact — an agreement that they would trade sons who were to live out their days in the other’s realm. If a son was to leave their new home, traveling to their native world or Earth, that would be a breach and war could likely renew. “Good!” exclaims Darkseid, looking at the rubble of his kingdom. “This exchange of heirs will seal the Pact!!” Referring to Highfather’s former name, the Master of the Holocaust continues, “Izaya wants peace! I — want — time!! — Time to re-define power!! — To make this ‘bombed-out’ waste a meaningful pursuit!!”

At that moment, Granny Goodness, one of Darkseid’s elite and head of the regime’s military academies, carries a bundle. “Hail, great Darkseid!” says Granny. “See what I hold!! See what was so gently nudged through the dimension threshold — from New Genesis!!” Wrapped in a blanket it is a young boy. “Izaya’s whelp, eh?” Darkseid observes. “This will hurt him!! He’s surrendered his prize lamb — for a tiger!!” For, in return, Highfather will become guardian to the feral, fierce son of Darkseid and Tigra, Orion, who would grow to be the greatest of all warriors on New Genesis.

(During his brief trip to Supertown, the satellite city of New Genesis, Superman unknowingly sits with Highfather and laments, “To be frank, I’m a new arrival to New Genesis! And by every rule I should belong here! — Yet, I-I’m finding it difficult to adjust.” The formerly-named Izaya the Inheritor looks over to the troubled Man of Steel and tells him, “There was a fierce young one with your problem! But we found a need for him here!! And it helped him mightily!!”)

Granny shows Darkseid the beautiful, sleeping child in her arms. “He’s been given some mild sedative, I think!!” Granny says. “There is a serene and fragile quality to his features!!”

Darkseid scoffs, “We’ll stamp that out, won’t we, Granny!!? We’ll jam him into that clanking mechanism you call an orphanage!! All the rigors and trials heaped upon the training warrior shall be doubled for him!! His spirit will flag and his bones will ache!! — Until –”

Until — sire??” asks Granny.

Darkseid confides the plan to begin a new age, one that will suit his galactic ambition: “He may conveniently decide to escape from Apokolips, Granny! Of course, on that day — The Pact I agreed to — will be broken!!

“That fine day will be dear to your heart, sire!” she says. “Therefore, in its honor, I shall name the lad — Scott Free!!! Ha ha hah –”

We only learn of this, when young Scott Free is first handed over to Apokolips, over a year after the debut of Mister Miracle and, to boot, in another title, The New Gods. But this arrival of Izaya the Inheritor’s scion is the first of two key, pivotal moments which serve to illustrate the dual core conflicts of the entire Fourth World saga (the second being the other side of the same bargain, the transfer of Orion to New Genesis). For it is Scott Free’s destiny, by machination or fate, to physically — and psychologically — escape the torment of his upbringing and live a life of peace and contentment (albeit fearlessly facing death on a constant basis). For Orion, the son of the most malevolent power in the universe, his raison d’etre is to somehow to resolve the curse of his birthright by rejecting evil and serving good. He, too, has a date with destiny, in the streets of Armagetto, to confront his father…

In the story unfolding in the comic book series, we learn of Scott’s background somewhat obliquely, first when The Great Thaddeus chuckles at first hearing Scott’s full name. “It has a past, sir!” the young man explains. “I was raised in an orphanage, and many of the foundlings were given such names to sort of — well — make them feel as individuals!

(An aside on the name: The American Heritage Dictionary defines scot-free, adj., 1. Without having to pay; free from obligation. 2. Without incurring any penalty; unpunished. [from Middle English scot, tax. See scot and lot.])

Soon thereafter we hear from she who named him and catch another glimpse of his background. Ranting to an underling, the old battle-ax bellows (in the third person, befitting her conceit), “She has lost her patience with rebellious boys! Granny Goodness wants to kill Scott Free! He was the first to run away from her institution!”

(Granny’s use of the word “first” might be a hint that Jack had in mind the inclusion of Big Barda, another escapee of Happiness Home, from the very start of the series.)

Oberon, Scott’s diminutive assistant, incessantly quizzes the young man about his past, giving readers the opportunity to learn more: “You claim to come from an orphanage, Scott — but it must be an incredible place!” The super escape-artist replies, “I came here — through the Boom Tube! … It can be a way of escape! — And I took it! I had to survive as an individual — as myself!

Doctor Bedlam, another Apokolips villain (about whom Oberon coyly asks, “Another visitor from this mysterious home town of yours, Scott?”), begins to reveal the planetary vendetta against the runaway: “And now, to my task! — To subjugate and break the spirit of the young rebel who dared to reject the powers that rule his world — and the master I serve! The great Darkseid, himself!”

While preparing a Civil War cannon act in “Doctor Vundabar and His Murder Machine,” Scott and Oberon engage in an informative exchange:

Oberon: “What is it like — where you come from, Scott –? You said it was a sort of orphanage — run by this old harpy — Granny Goodness!

Scott: “You saw her, Oberon… I’m certain you found her quite impressive! Well, she’s in charge of one of many institutions where the young of Apokolips are raised and trained to develop their inherent powers!! … You’d find the orphanage a nightmarish place!! Barda and I were raised there! When I had enough, it was she who helped me escape! I suppose that’s what I’ve been doing ever since!”

Issues #4 through 8 of Mister Miracle had larger page counts than the rest of the run and they accommodated a particularly fine treat for avid readers who wanted to find out more about this enigmatic super-hero with a mysterious past. Short vignettes titled “Young Scott Free” gave us glimpses into the boy’s military training and how one god from New Genesis took a special interest in the future Mister Miracle.

The first four-pager shows us Scott being punished by Granny and his fellow cadets. She barks at the boy, “Report, Scott!” Standing rigid at full attention, he replies, “I was derelict in duty and a traitor to the tradition! When I was given living specimens for my lesson in prisoner interrogation, I allowed them to overcome me and escape!!” Granny berates him as spineless and, beating him with her baton, she teaches him a lesson about whom Jack would later call “The Hunger Dogs”: “Those living specimens populate Apokolips to Breed for Darkseid — To work for Darkseid! To be killed for Darkseid!!” Still Scott speaks from his empathetic heart, “B-but they look like us! They’re weaponless!! They cry under torment!” Scott is further beaten and thrown into a “Contemplation Cell,” where “a visitor who conquers barriers” — Metron, the Seeker and Wielder of Cosmic Knowledge — introduces himself and begins to prompt Scott toward escaping his life of violence and despair…

The second installment, two pages, is of Scott joining his zombie-like fellow inmates in the dining hall and features this great opening blurb: “Mister Miracles are not made overnight!! Sometimes they are in places where they must be jolted and wrenched and brought to the crossroads of destiny!! For reasons of his own, Metron, the enigmatic knowledge-seeker, began this process — in the realm of Darkseid!! In the iron institution run by Granny Goodness!! — And in another small segment of the early life of — Young Scott Free!” In the bit, Metron urges Scott to not eat the drugged grub (“saturated with ‘brain-drain’ chemical!”) and to stay keen. “Your mind must be clear, boy!! It must be at its sharpest!! You see — it belongs to you!!” Metron (appearing only to Scott, with the others in the crowded mess completely oblivious) continues, pointing his finger at the youngster, “Scott Free owns your mind!! Who is Scott Free?? Would you die for idols before you discovered Scott Free???”

Scott’s burgeoning competence as an escape-artist is center of the last, four-page scenario, which has him training on his Aero-Discs, which comprise a pair of a metallic cylinders on which the user places his feet, giving the ability of flight (Scott would use these as Mister Miracle) and engaging in a mock battle with para-demons.

The introduction of Big Barda of the Special Powers Force (and head of the Female Fury battle unit) gave us a bit more background, right from the get-go of their fateful reunion. Here’s Scott and Barda’s first exchange in the series, when Barda responds to Scott’s remark about her full-dress battle uniform:

Barda: Yes, this is a far cry from our days as pupils of Granny Goodness!

Scott: You should have gone with me — when I escaped from her institution, Barda!

Barda: Yes — perhaps I should have — but I stayed! Stayed — to become… what I am!

A little while later, during a relaxing moment in Scott’s home:

Barda: How about your welcome for Big Barda?

Scott: Maximum is the word for you, Barda! I could never think of you without deep and genuine fondness!

Barda: I helped you in your first great escape!

Scott: Yep, Oberon! If not for Barda, I might have turned out to be a grim, tough product in the Granny Goodness tradition!

Barda: I risked severe punishment to help you bolt Granny’s institution!

From then on, the pair are inseparable, first as comrades, later in a more intimate capacity.

Early on, it’s obvious that Scott’s escape from Apokolips, though details have yet to be revealed to us, has somehow besmirched the honor of Darkseid and his elite. Granny Goodness and her pet Overlord, Doctor Bedlam and his “Paranoid Pill,” Virman Vundabar and his “Murder Machine” — all are sent to Earth in a pathological group-obsession to kill Scott Free for his audacious disobedience of the King of Evil, each setting typically complex, inescapable traps only to be foiled time and again by Mister Miracle’s tenacity, cleverness and seemingly bottomless bag of tricks. And time and again Scott Free takes on all comers. But the edges begin to fray…

By the end of the Vundabar affair, their relationship begins to grow more meaningful after Barda apologizes for having been daunted about Scott’s safety (Barda says, “Scott–!! Scott — forgive me!! I-I was afraid! — for us! I — a warrior–” And Scott replies, “You’re better than that, Barda!! You’re a woman!!” as he flies atop his Aero-Discs, carrying Barda in his arms), the couple becomes closer, more caring, and a deeper bond develops. And as their lives are an endless defense against Apokolips interlopers, Scott begins to contemplate another escape plan, this one far away from home base, apparently ground zero for Apokolips hierarchy and each one with the same beef against Scott.

Enter Funky Flashman, a con man looking for a pigeon, and the Female Furies, Barda’s former command now ordered to kill her and Scott. Funky tries to sell himself as an able business manager to Scott, who despite knowing the scoundrel is a “transparent second-rater,” see the promise of touring as a way to get away from the Apokoliptian hordes. Scott tells his assistant, “Touring means constantly on the move, Oberon!! That’s what’s important! We must become mobile!” And the onslaught of Stompa, Lashina, Mad Harriet and Bernadeth only add to the itch to hit the road.

Scott: Will the hunting dogs never stop coming!?! … Earth isn’t small! Perhaps we can lose ourselves in hamlets, cities — continents –!! Perhaps, in time — the forces of Apokolips will give up the hunt!!

Barda: It’s a delusion, Scott! Only I’ll buy it!

But the attack of the Female Furies and their defeat by Big Barda fatigue the woman warrior and Scott has a change of heart, not to flee but to confront. “This has got to stop! I won’t stand for others being harmed on my account!! It’s time I stopped running!! It’s time I stood my ground!!” And, at the finale of “Funky Flashman”:

Scott: Our battle is with the forces of Apokolips! — and with ourselves!! We had the courage to break free of them! — Do we dare to return — and face them down?!

Barda: If we dare — We die!! Well, I’m a soldier, Scott!! I’m trained to die!! But, you — you’re beautiful inside!! They never got to you!! And now they’ll do things to you —

Scott: Enough Barda! There is NO freedom in running!! I’m going BACK and win it THEIR way!! — in TRIAL BY COMBAT!!

This is a crucial moment in Mister Miracle’s development as a character and Scott Free’s ascension to maturity, as well as a delightful indication how the Fourth World was evolving beyond the usual static-world confines of American adventure comics. Scott is changing, facing his apprehensions and wanting to move on, and not succumbing to the greatest of Darkseid’s powers, fear itself. Whatever his fate on Apokolips, his decision to stop risking others’ safety and to stand his ground for his devotion to freedom and individuality proves a great victory for Scott Free — even if it is an incredible gamble. The introductory blurb in “The Apokolips Trap” nicely spells it out: “Would Scott Free be so foolhardy as to return to the nightmare world from which he escaped?? Yes, good friends! It still has roots that must be cut! Roots that reach to Earth and destroy all that Scott has learned to love — His friends! — His craft! — His new life!! — And besides — Death has the same face — wherever he strikes at Mister Miracle!

And, with that thunderous declaration by a newly invigorated hero, the constant companions prepare a return to the nightmare world of their childhood. First, in a poignant scene, Scott must say goodbye to his faithful Oberon, explaining the situation to the dwarf as would father tenderly explain the complexities of life to a son:

Scott: We must leave, Oberon!!

Oberon: Why must you leave!? Why!? You escaped from Apokolips once! Do you think that Granny Goodness and her creepy pets will let you do an encore??

Scott: No!! But strangely enough — like all organized societies, Apokolips exists by rules!! — Made by Darkseid — and kept by his subjects!! This time I must escape from Apokolips — within those rules!!

(We’ll get to our hero’s sense of honor and fair play in our next entry, part two of the life and times of Scott Free, Mister Miracle, but do take note of his preoccupation with rules.)

“The Apokolips Trap” and “The Battle of the Id,” the remarkable homecoming issues, show us just how much all-consuming fear the elite of Darkseid’s world have of this unassuming young man and to what lengths they go to in their attempts to destroy him. Only Kanto, Darkseid’s personal assassin, gives Scott proper respect. The others, Granny most of all, yearn to be first to tell Darkseid that Scott Free is dead.

After surviving a veritable gauntlet traveling through Apokolips, Scott and Barda arrive at Happiness Home, the notorious orphanage where they once lived. “Tell Granny that I’m back!!” orders Scott to one of the maven’s underlings. “Tell Granny I claim freedom — by Right of Combat!!

Now Scott is speaking the same language as his enemies! Dressed in her Victorian jammies, Granny revels in the return of the young man. “Granny’s been waiting for this day, Scott Free!!” though actually speaking this to herself. “The day you would march back here and flaunt your impudence!! Well, you forget, sir!! — a trap made by Granny — is a trap of the gods!!!

That trap, a psychological war, of sorts, with The Lump, is unsuccessful, though at one point Granny believes Scott has been killed. She tells the marauding Barda, who has arrived to save Mister Miracle, “I should’ve known you’d break the rules again! — for him! Well — you’re too late this time, Barda! Scott Free is dead! Unlike yourself, he understands the rules laid down by Granny — and died an honorable death!! As for you, traitor –” (A sliding scale of honor, Granny has!)

After the dust has settled, Scott, in a sweet moment between the increasingly intimate couple, tenderly soothes a tearfully distraught but now relieved Barda after “The Battle of the Id”… There’s a growing attachment here between these two.

Then comes the true origin tale of Young Scott Free and certainly one of the most important stories in the tapestry we call the Fourth World. Now, with “Himon,” we get the complete story of Young Scott Free’s escape from Apokolips, certainly one of the best single stories in American comics. It is everything we love about Kirby’s work: it’s kinetic, passionate, visceral and unabashedly afire with pure, primal rage… It is dark, hopeful, vicious and profoundly sweet. It is, my friend, not to be missed.

The introduction copy to “Himon” sets the stage: “Thus we are witness to a bizarre incident — the story of it is old! It reaches back to the days of the ‘Great Clash‘ between New Genesis and Apokolips! The battles were fought for total creeds, with total tools — and there were victims of it who survived with new and total arts! This is the story of Himon, the ultimate escape-artist who fostered Mister Miracle by teaching his trade to — Young Scott Free!

(An aside, if I may, on the Dickensian motifs that abound in Jack’s depiction of Apokolips, a world not dissimilar to the London slums of the early Industrial Age (if you were to combine the locale with a Fascist power structure promulgating a society completely dedicated to perpetual war!). As a matter of fact, Jack is rather explicit about the work of English novelist Charles Dickens having an influence on Darkseid’s planet! Early on, Oberon prods Scott for information about this sinister other world:

Oberon: [Speaking of Virman Vundubar] His name is even goofier than yours!! Did all you orphans get tagged that way?

Scott: I’m sure you’ve read Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist!‘ The kids in that situation had such names — ‘Artful Dodger!‘ — Oliver himself!

Oberon: Sure! I get it! There is a similarity!! But it ends right there!! Your orphans are hardly the wide-eyed, helpless type!

Scott: True! The products of Apokolips — wield the power of Apokolips!!

And, in his descriptive captions, Jack references the British author: Prefacing the first “Young Scott Free” vignette with “In the tradition of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield” and, in another, “Given these very same circumstances, in another context, Oliver Twist may well have become — Young Scott Free!!” In the “coming next issue” blurb in Mister Miracle #9: “If you remember Fagin in Oliver Twist — you’ll never forget Himon!” Apparently it’s not unusual for the new gods to read Earth literature, as we learn in The Forever People adventure, “The Power,” both Vykin and Big Bear are familiar with George Orwell’s dystopian vision of Earth’s future, 1984.)

The Scott Free we first meet in “Himon” is rather brash and arrogant, instilled with a militarist’s sense of superiority. When he initially encounters the legendary Himon, thorn in the side of the Apokolips elite and a rebel leader (if you will), never mind all-around genius (who developed the two most significant technological advances in the history of the two worlds, Mother Box and the Boom Tube), Scott sneers, “I was a fool to seek you out! I don’t know what prompted me to come to your filthy den!” Himon replies, “To learn about this Mother Box — to discover Scott Free — to escape!!

A meeting of the two greatest minds of either world in this issue features this discussion of the future Mister Miracle’s destiny:

Metron: Scott Free will play no part in [the Orion/Darkseid showdown in Armagetto]! His destiny is to escape from Apokolips! Darkseid plans to kill him for that and begin a new war! You must help Scott escape unhurt!

Himon: You showed Scott the way to me — and I can teach him to escape Apokolips! But I can’t give him the resolve! Only Scott can renounce what he was here! But a destructive revelation is not a father! — And a slaughterhouse is not a home! — For one born on New Genesis!

Perhaps the most significant catalyst for Scott’s — and, later, Barda’s — breakout from the hellworld is the treatment young Female Fury Auralie receives at the hands of District Protector Wonderful Willik. Auralie is one of Himon’s young prodigies that Scott Free meets during his first meeting with Himon. As the great escape-artist and inventor introduces Scott to his troupe of “heroes,” the future Mister Miracle looks down his nose at a quiet young girl gazing into images of dancers within a transluscent cube. “Show me the value of this female, Himon! She does nothing but stare into that Mind-Video!” Himon gives the girl an affectionate look and retorts, “Auralie’s thoughts are beautiful! She creates beauty! Imagine — doing this on a world like Apokolips! Poor, brave Auralie! — Trying to survive with her inner beauty — in that grim house of horrors Granny calls an ‘orphanage!!’ You’re free to dance here, Auralie — Just like your images in the Mind-Video! You won’t be punished — we’d like to watch you –!”

Just as she is about to perform, Auralie is accosted by young Lieutenant Barda who is hunting with her fellow Furies for the AWOL cadet. (It is here Barda first meets Scott Free.) Later, when Scott and Barda are called before Wonderful Willik, he lectures Barda and says, “You Female Furies are quick to bare your claws! But you did have one among you — a fragile, little failure –” Barda demands, “Auralie! Where’s Auralie? S-she’s — been — missing –!” A smug smile cracking across his face, Willik opens a chamber door, revealing lifeless, thin young legs bound in a sinister, smoldering apparatus looking like mechanized footwear. “We found her!” says Willik. “Dancing like a pretty little doll! — For which we gave her a pair of high-voltage shock boots!” Auralie was tortured to death…

Then, ever closer to his resolve to escape the nightmare planet, Scott is comforted by his new mentor, revealing perhaps why the hierarchy of Apokolips is so singularly obsessed with him after his journey to Earth:

Himon: Yes, Scott! Darkseid fears you, too! Because, you, too, can dream of things beyond Darkseid! What is the dream released inside Scott Free?

Scott: I-I don’t know –! I — think — it’s serenity — embodied in the voice of a woman — I-I cannot see! Always she says — ‘You know, Izaya, — I’ve never heard you sing –‘ I cannot see the woman but I’m filled with the serenity she brings!

Himon: That dream is yours, Scott! Yours!!

Barda: To dream beyond Darkseid!! — On Apokolips, it seems unthinkable!!

Soon Scott Free makes a run for it. “Then, escape finally comes! Scott is stripped of his rank! His mechanisms taken! — All but his Aero-Discs! He bolts!” And young Lieutenant Barda helps him in the breakout.

Scott: Barda! What you’re doing is unheard of here! Why are you helping me?

Barda: Because I like to help fools! — Because I couldn’t save Auralie! I don’t know!

The only way to depict the climax of this poignant, astounding story is to simply transcribe the dialogue. It’s no better way to end an entry on the subject, too, for after jumping into the Boom Tube and traveling to Earth, Scott Free becomes something different, someone grander and more resonant — a man of miracles, escaping an inescapable world completely devoted to fear and the adoration of death. With this he is hope personified, proof as he will later say, that Darkseid’s world can fall:

Scott: I-I won’t be stopped! I-I — I’ll crawl to freedom — come — with — me —

Barda: Not — yet — Scott! I-I’m not ready — perhaps — someday — keep going!

And protected by their own mysterious powers against the forces that bind Scott, two allies await!

Scott: Himon! Metron! You’ve created a Boom-Tube! It’s denied to all but Darkseid’s hierarchy!

Himon: It’s open to you, Scott! An open door to — Earth!


Darkseid: The young fool goes on! He struggles to rise! If he leaves Darkseid, he’ll still find Death!

Himon: If he leaves Apokolips, he’ll find the universe!!!


Next entry: Life After Apokolips: The Life and Times of Mister Miracle, Super Escape-Artist!

Day 68: Oberon!

Oberon was the longtime personal assistant of the Great Thaddeus (a.k.a. the original Mister Miracle) until the showman’s tragic demise and the curmudgeonly dwarf thereafter attended to the “new” Mister Miracle, Scott Free. Little is known of his background other than Oberon’s decades-long dedication to Thaddeus Brown but he remains a constant and useful companion for Scott, always a voice of caution (often exceedingly so) and his loyalty and devotion are important components of the acclimation to Earth culture by Scott — and later Big Barda.

It is with Barda Oberon has a salty though affectionate relationship, bantering mild insults back and forth, and providing a nice comic relief to all the death-defying doings happening with the growing team. Upon the female warrior telling Scott, “I risked severe punishment to help you bolt Granny’s institution!” Oberon snidely suggests to his employer as he turns his back on the pair, “If you ask me, it would have done you a world of improvement if she’d left with you, Scott!” At this, Barda raises her mighty Mega-Rod to strike the dwarf, only to be stayed by Scott, who tells her to steady herself: “Easy –.” And Barda hisses through her teeth, “The little rat — he needs a disciplined tongue!”

Perhaps the most stirring moment in the entire series occurs when Scott and Barda are appearing to return to Darkseid’s planet in the homecoming and a distraught Oberon desperately urges them to reconsider. The Female Fury, in full-dress uniform, sneers at the diminutive assistant:

Barda: Don’t fill this room with sentimental slop! Just say goodbye — and blow!

Oberon: Listen to Big Barda! Look at yourself, Scott!! It’s like that demon’s place, Apokolips, has taken hold of you both!! — and claimed you forever!!!

Scott: We must leave, Oberon!

Oberon: Why must you leave!? Wny!? You escaped from Apokolips once! Do you think that Granny Goodness and her creepy pets will let you do an encore??

Scott: No!! But strangely enough — like all organized societies, Apokolips exists by rules!! — Made by Darkseid — and kept by his subjects!! This time I must escape from Apokolips — within those rules!! [With that, Scott hands Oberon his carpetbag.] Here! My bag of tricks! I leave it in your care, Oberon!! It must never be opened!

Oberon: I-I’ll see to that!!! It’ll be in this closet when — you — get — back!!! Who would want it, anyway!!? It’s a fool’s bag!! — waiting here — for a young fool!!!

Barda: Get out! Get out! — You little sawed-off drip!

Oberon: I’m going!! For just a little while, I-I thought you were really a big, beautiful warm-hearted girl!!

Here, both in tears, Barda crouches down to the floor to embrace the little man.

Oberon: — Instead of a loudmouthed, military, man-killing harpy turned out by those terrible Darkseiders!!

Barda: Oh, shut up! — or I’ll — I’ll — Oh, take-off!! When we get back, I’ll really blister you!! Now march!!

Oberon: I’ll be here! I’ll — always be here!!

Barda: Good old Oberon! There’s a lot of person in that small package!! Oh well!

Oberon is not only attached to Barda, he’s also a little prudish about a single girl living in the same house with two bachelor men, as he tells Scott, “That female ‘Attila the Hun‘ has really taken over here, Scott! If she decides to stay — it may seem very improper –” though Scott tells him not to worry about it.

As a literary device, Oberon provides an audience for Scott’s exposition about the larger forces lurking, whether about his upbringing on Apokolips or the various players in Darkseid’s cadre of evildoers who plague the two. As Jack ever so slowly unravels the background story — it took nine issues of the title to get to Scott Free’s origin — the writer/artist expertly weaves in hints and shadows of a greater epic in play, and Oberon is the perfect human character to help the reader process the fantastic developments and make a earthly response.

As cranky and complaining a sidekick can be, Oberon is also very lovable — and not because he’s the size of a large Teddy bear, but because his affections for Scott and Barda (and later Ted Brown) are always near the surface of his crusty demeanor. He also keeps a lookout for business opportunities for the Mister Miracle team and often participates in the show (sometimes with chip firmly placed on shoulder as he is forced to dress in costume — here as a tiny Civil War soldier; there with complementary super-hero get-up, complete with flowing cape!). When helping Scott with the cannon gag, Oberon says, “But look at me!! How do you think I feel in this Civil War ‘get-up!‘ Besides, if I get laughs from your audience — it could ‘upstage’ your performance!” Mister Miracle answers, “We’re both stars in this act! It needs all the color we can give it!”

When Oberon was forced, at Ted Brown’s insistence (as Ted had become, for a time, the act’s manager), to don a virtual super-hero costume, he complains to himself as he looks into a mirror, “The Great Thaddeus would certainly have frowned on the shenanigans his son has dreamed up! And that flashy uniform and cape I must wear in the act! — Ugh! It’s really something else –! [at the reflection of himself in a mirror] Ahh! There y’are! — The humble, but talented Oberon! — And I must say you look mighty relaxed without the fancy trappings and the frozen grin!”

(I can’t resist mention of one of the truly memorable bits of Kirby humor cartooning is when Funky Flashman, who calls the assistant “Little Pixy,” prepares to kick Oberon behind the little guy’s back — great stuff! And then there’s this exchange when they first meet, when Funky stoops so low as to pinch the dwarf’s cheek!:

Funky: And this fantastic elfin creature can be none other than Oberon, mentioned briefly in your letter!

Oberon: Easy there, buster!

Scott: It’s Oberon’s coffee that’s fantastic!)

As vital and necessary as the character is to the Mister Miracle saga, Oberon is, well, a delightful addition to the mythos and it’s always a joy when he is part of the action. And the assistant is also a catalyst to give us readers a sense of Scott Free’s depth of compassion and love for others, as Mister Miracle is always ready with words of encouragement and terms of endearment for his tiny friend. I mean, the Super Escape Artist is just about the nicest super-hero as ever there was! And Oberon returns the sentiment, telling his boss, “I’m proud to be your assistant, Mister Miracle! You’re the greatest!” Another time, Scott gives his friend an “attaboy” by telling him, “Good work, Oberon! Keep practicing and you’ll be a star performer one day!”

Tears again flow as Scott and Barda do leave Oberon, this time for good immediately after the wedding ceremony. While hoping that he and Oberon (as well as Shilo) will meet again — “Our paths part here. But they may merge again” — Mister MIracle says goodbye to his faithful companion:

Scott: I’ll miss you, old friend. In the face of peril, I’ll always remember that you cared!

Oberon: By daring death, you taught me the value of life. Scott — Scott —

And by both embracing life so fully, Mister Miracle and Oberon instructed us on the importance of friendship!

Day 67: The Great Thaddeus!

Our story opens with the original Mister Miracle being bound by a metal contraption, placed in a bolted wooden shed and then set ablaze by his assistant’s flamethrower. A young onlooker intervenes but the aging escape artist successfully defies death by bursting free of the flaming structure. And thus Thaddeus Brown meets Scott Free.

Thaddeus Brown is, of course, the original Mister Miracle, the graying, renowned escape artist formerly known as “The Great Thaddeus,” who now dreams of a return to glory by resurrecting his show business career. He lives with his faithful assistant, the diminutive Oberon, in a pleasant two-story home, which “stands serenely as it always has, in a small, quiet suburb near the city” (presumably Metropolis, where it seems many of the other Fourth World adventures take place on Earth), where he is working to get back into shape for a national campaign. We learn that Thaddeus’ wife has passed away and the escape artist tells Scott Free that his only son died in Korea (this last statement appears untrue, as public relations man Ted Brown enters the series with #10 and stays on as supporting character until #16). Thaddeus says to Scott it was Ted who urged his father to change his act. “Ted was a wonderful boy!” said Thaddeus. “He loved to assist Oberon in preparing my act! He also kept an album of my exploits!

“I see you were once known as the ‘Great Thaddeus!’” Scott says, taking note of the scrapbook’s cover.

“Yes, I began with that name, but it outlived its usefulness! It was Ted who pointed this out!” Thaddeus explains. “It was all Ted’s idea! He created Mister Miracle — and brought the art of escape into a new decade!”

His plan to return to public performing is called “The Big Trap,” where Thaddeus is tightly bound by locked metal straps to a tree trunk situated at the bottom of an incline. At the top of the adjacent hill is secured an enormous metal sphere (“This thing weighs a ton!” yaps Oberon) and between that and the tree is a flume-like track constructed to guide the ball straight for the elderly showman. Oberon is terrified of Thaddeus’ condition and the lethal risk the escape artist is taking. In fact, the small person is a constant nag to his employer: “Don’t go through with this, maestro! I beg you — Be content with your past greatness! — During these years of inactivity — time has passed you by!” and “You were slow! Slow! Age has dimmed your senses and time has knotted your reflexes!

Even while Thaddeus tells his friend, “Don’t scold me, Oberon! I’m doing wellsoon I will do better!” Oberon does have a point. Thaddeus is likely in his mid-sixties, and despite sporting a magnificent beard and full head of hair (both snow-white), and also physically impressive and by appearances virile, he suffers from fatigue and even with the Great Thaddeus’ protestations to the contrary, his timing is off. Plus, the escape artist has the added liability of a most powerful enemy.

When Thaddeus and Scott first meet, they are interrupted by Inter-Gang goons “moving with silent, evil assurance — symbols of organized crime in the atomic age.” Not only does the head thug bandy about handguns, he is also rude, telling Thaddeus, “You creak — like one of your antique clocks!” We learn the gang’s boss is Steel Hand and a donnybrook ensues, with Scott and his carpetbag joining in. Steel Hand’s henchmen are defeated and, apparently delighted with Scott’s help during the fracas, invites the wanderer to stay in the Brown household.

Scott shows off his own impressive skills as a burgeoning escape artist and Thaddeus and Oberon are increasingly impressed with this stranger. Thaddeus alludes to an unpaid wager owed him by Steel Hand and we learn this standing debt is becoming a matter of pride with the criminal kingpin.

Tragically the Great Thaddeus, bound to the tree trunk in full-dress rehearsal for “The Big Trap,” is struck by a sniper’s bullet and while he is saved by some miraculous moves by Scott Free from being crush by the metal sphere, his life is ebbing away. “Too late — Scott — no more miracles for me,” he tells his new prodigy. Scott comforts him on the grass, as the old man says, “There’s nothing you can do, Scott! The act is finished!” Thaddeus then reveals Steel Hand was likely behind his assassination and, death coming close, he implore Scott to say by his side. Scott takes a device strapped to his upper arm and holds it next to Thaddeus’ ear. “What is it — I hear — a sound — a voice — comforting, easing — the pain is — gone –” and Thaddeus Brown, the original Mister Miracle passes this world into the great unknown.

If I may be granted some personal comments (though I’ve tried to keep things pretty descriptive with minimal opining — no easy task for me!), I still ponder over the symbolism and plot device of Thaddeus Brown in the Mister Miracle opus. I have heard, for instance, that elements of Mister Miracle are based on real-life escape artist (and comic-book legendary writer/artist/designer) Jim Steranko, a friend of Jack’s, and that leads me to speculate whether Thaddeus represents Jack and Scott symbolizes Jim, thus a dramatic “passing of the torch”… Nahhh, doesn’t ring true to me, as Jack was at the height of his game during this time. Does Scott Free seek out Thaddeus because the performer is out of the limelight, living relatively secluded in the suburbs, and thus away from the prying eyes of Darkseid’s minions in the city…? Does Scott want folks to believe he is Thaddeus Brown and that’s why he assumes the Mister Miracle identity?

It’s agonizing that I’m so far unable to get a grasp on this aspect of the Scott Free mythos, as I believe the character to be the most resonate in the Fourth World, a physical representation of life in the face of death, of happiness surrounded by misery, of hope coming through overwhelming despair… In other words, Scott Free seems to be an autobiographical character, more so than Captain America, or Scrapper, or Ben Grimm… Do you have any idea?