Though Jack Kirby’s Mister Miracle ostensibly ran for 6 years (1971-1977), the series produced only 25 issues. Between #18, Kirby’s final issue, and #19, there is a 3 year gap. It is a testament to the vitality of Mister Miracle that he was revived; not only revived as a character, but also as a series. Rather than being restarted at number one, the original series continued in number order. Kirby’s narrative skills are a source of great debate in comics circles. Some label him as all around creative genius who tapped into a fundamental, archetypical voice. Some claim that he should probably have left the writing duties to someone else. Regardless, it is difficult to dispute that there is something primal about the ideas that power his stories, whether or not those stories capitalize on that primacy.
3 years after Mister Miracle’s production was halted, a couple of late-seventies star writers were brought aboard to continue Kirby’s chronicle. Steven Englehart scripted issues 19 – 22, and Steve Gerber handled issues 23 – 25. Issue #25 was the final one in attempting to salvage the Kirby series. So whether or not Gerber’s story might have continued (it seems, from the end of #25, that continuation was intended somehow), or if he would have been replaced by another writer for another arc, is hard to say. Nevertheless, Gerber’s three issues offer a wealth of narratological and philosophical notions that are, to use the word I coined in the previous article, Gerberian.
Gerber’s first issue opens with Mister Miracle hurtling through a strange non-space after having failed to defeat Darkseid at the end of the previous issue. The story (with art by Michael Golden and Joe Giella) delves deeply into that often-cliché trope of the cosmic odyssey, which fascinated many of the mainstream writers of the seventies. In the previous article I mentioned that Gerber’s works occur mostly in the wake of the Summer of Love, and so this preoccupation with the cosmic, and the place of the human in such a vast universe, grows from the questions of consciousness that so informed the counterculture of the early part of the decade. What Scott Free experiences in this issue is nothing short of a hallucinatory trip through his own history and struggles. (He is guided by an entity that might be a fundamental part of the fabric of the cosmos, but also may simply be a mouthpiece for the writer.) The superhuman engaging in a literal dialogue with the primal aspects of the universe sounds decidedly sixties.
So what is it that makes this piece Gerberian? More, what distinguishes this late-seventies cosmic odyssey from the optimistic ones that informed the hippy generation? It comes down, once again, to the notion of responsibility I brought up last time with regard to Dr. Fate. Mister Miracle is brought to this strange non-space by the force known as Ethos for the following reason: “Your preconceptions limit your view of yourself. And you must overcome those limitations—to become the ‘messiah’ of your aspirations. You cannot teach others until you know yourself.” Such a sentiment could have been lifted wholesale from the writings of Ram Dass or Alan Watts, but the temporal context gives us a different perspective on this pseudo-mystical philosophy. Rather than the ascendant philosophy that one might associate with Timothy Leary and his ilk (the movement out of a particular game and into a more cosmic one), Miracle’s breaking of his preconceptions is descendant, in that by the issue’s end he understands that he cannot be a god; he cannot be above humanity if he is to inspire them as a messiah. Instead, he must be human. Indeed, the final revelation of Gerber’s first story is that the product of New Genesis and Apokalips, a child fathered of gods, is in fact a human being. The realization breaks the metaphoric chains that have bound Scott Free, and he is able to proceed with his quest. There’s also a bizarre car race that Miracle is inserted into, a metaphor for the cyclical struggle between New Genesis and Apokalips that he must escape. I half expected Dick Dastardly and Muttly to show up, but no such luck.
Gerber’s Mister Miracle run investigates how a superhuman who sees himself as messiah might go about achieving the kinds of goals he sets for himself. What is the best way for him to inspire humankind? How does he incorporate friends and family into a messianic quest? Miracle returns to both New Genesis and Apokalips, rescuing and recruiting friends along the way, and then returns to his escape artist career on Earth. Here, he reverts to his usual tricks, to the spectacle of the death-defying escape, to demonstrate concretely on Earth the lesson that he has just been taught interdimensionally. The message of this colorful messiah is that in order to become one’s better self, one must break the chains that constrain oneself. It’s not an original idea, either in spiritual writings or in superhero comics, but the deployment of the idea is relatively novel. While someone like Superman or Captain America might stand as a symbol, but stand apart as a symbol, Mister Miracle takes more phenomenological action, interacting and teaching and (to be blunt) preaching. Rather than passively inspiring human beings, Mister Miracle purports to actively inspire others to break their constraining chains. Scott Free thus takes on the responsibility not only of figurehead and inspiration, but also of teacher and interlocutor.
By way of contrast to this benevolent experiential contact with the human race, issues 24 and 25 present the story of Alianna Hubbard, a young girl unable to feel pain who is recruited to defeat Mister Miracle by Darkseid’s crony Granny Goodness. There is an interesting comparison to be made here. The opening page of issue #25 has Miracle proclaiming that “Escape is Possible!” He paints the chains and coffin from which he has just escaped as metaphors for the difficulties of modern life. The metaphor works both ways in that his escape demonstrates that escape is possible. Conversely, those remaining trapped within one’s constraints, be they physical or psychological, will be lead to death. Granny Goodness offers Alianna an escape from her own physical and psychological constraints (epitomized by Alianna’s overbearing mother), but Granny’s escape and Mister Miracle’s escape are tempered by differing vertical movements. As I noted, Scott Free’s cosmic experience allows him a descendant motion, such that while still possessing superhuman powers, he sees himself as a part of the group he purports to save. Granny’s training of Alianna is ostensibly an ascendant movement for the girl, but her ascendency is both in service of a being that sees itself as apart from and above humanity, and also attempts to convince the girl that she is better than others. In this we have a critique of religious dogma that might preach the priority of believers over non-believers, whereas Mister Miracle’s spiritual goal is one of equality.
Let’s tie some things together. I’ve mentioned responsibility of the superhuman as an over-arching trope of Steve Gerber’s work. In Mister Miracle, he investigates the responsibility a god has to the human, and how a god might come to understand that responsibility. The answer seems to be that the god must become human, a very New Testament notion. But in issues 24 and 25, Scott Free is lifted into the air bound by chains and coffins, and his transubstantial moment is a descent from on high down to the level of those to whom he preaches, the opposite of the Christian transubstantiation and fulfillment of Christ’s time on Earth. Granny Goodness, not having learned this lesson, tries to remove Alianna from humanity but in doing so ends up chaining her. So where Dr. Fate’s lesson of responsibility was that of husband to wife, the responsibility to our families and those closest to us, Mister Miracle broadens that concern to all of humankind. To be responsible to his or her “flock,” a god must be one of the flock, must understand the connections the human being values. Granny, in trying to make a perfect answer to Mister Miracle, an Anti-Christ that she explicitly refers to at the end of issue #25, removes Alianna’s familial connections, her human connections, and thus sets her up for failure by believing in the power of ascendancy versus descendancy.
By the end of issue #25, it’s clear that there was definitely meant to be more to this story, whether it was to be penned by Gerber or not. Mister Miracle would vanish from his own title for a few more years, popping back up into the DCU on a regular basis in his own series and in the Justice League in the nineteen eighties. But Steve Gerber never went back to this brief messianic story, and Alianna Hubbard, left at the end of #25 in the care of Mister Miracle, is never heard from again.
Earlier in this article, I mentioned both Superman and Captain America, two inspirational icons, perhaps the most inspirational icons that either of their respective universes has created. The next two articles will look, respectively, at these two characters. Though major players in their fictional milieus, Gerber’s work on the two still falls into my appellation of minor mainstream works. For Captain America, which we’ll look at next time, Gerber wrote four issues, around the same time as his Mister Miracle work. In the case of Superman, the four issue Phantom Zone series appeared at the same time that Gerber was co-writing Dr. Fate. As with Fate, Gerber returned to Superman’s mythos in the early twenty-first century, but I’ll limit my consideration of his work to this mini-series for the time being. What I will delineate in the next couple of articles is Gerber’s propensity for the absurd, his reliance on the surreal to articulate ideas that are perhaps inarticulable. With the god-become-human Mister Miracle, we have perhaps followed the theme of responsibility to its logical conclusion. Now we’ll start to think about not just what Gerber writes about, but how he writes about what he writes about.