Friday, June 28, 2024

Notes on a Fourth World Re-read: The Persecution and Restoration of Scott Free

I think the best part of Kirby's Fourth World Saga is the arc revealing the events leading up to the current war between New Genesis and Apokopolips that begins in New Gods #7 (1971) and culminates in Mister Miracle #9 (1972). It is not really the story of a warrior, but rather that of a man who runs away from war. Scott Free is an escape artist, and what he wants to escape is others defining who he is.

Izaya the Highfather may have given his only begotten son to avoid war with New Genesis, but we see little in the way of paternal affection toward that son even after his escape. Indeed, both rulers are in a very real sense more fatherly toward the boy they fostered than the one that is actually their kin. It's Darkseid, the horrifically authoritarian parent, that seems to want Scott Free on his team and gives him a pitch like Darth Vader gave to Luke:

Perhaps Scott Free is genetically or spiritually predisposed toward goodness, but it's Himon, the inventor hiding in the slums of Apokolips, a benevolent serpent in Darkseid's anti-Eden, that puts him on the path away from being a cog in the Apokolips war machine. Himon helps him make his first and perhaps greatest escape. And that's what he does. And that's what he keeps doing.

If the new gods are actually gods, well, Mister Miracle would be the sort classified as a dying-and-rising deity, like Adonis or Tammuz--or Jesus. He's sent to Hell as an infant but escapes not to return to the Heaven of New Genesis but to go to Earth. His career (and comic) become about ritually recapitulating this act, escaping death again and again.

Scott Free in Kirby's stories is not an active participant in the gods' war. Steve Gerber, the second writer to follow Kirby on the Mister Miracle title makes explicit what Kirby only implies: Scott Free has a vision of the warring gods as racers going round and round a track. To join in is to be stuck in the loop. Scott Free's destiny, this story tells us, is to become a messiah and offer a different way. This messianic element is certainly not explicit in Kirby's issues; on the other hand, Scott Free recruits Big Barda to his defection, and she in turn brings along the Female Furies. He also gets a disciple in the form of Shilo Norman. His stage name proclaims his wondrous nature: Mister Miracle.

We'll never know where Kirby's Mister Miracle might have done, ultimately. The summer of 1972 saw the end of Kirby's run on two of his Fourth World titles, Forever People and New Gods with their 11th issues. Mister Miracle escaped their fate for a few more issues, but most aspects of Kirby's wider mythology were dropped from the title, in favor of more off-beat superheroics of the sort Kirby would bring to Captain America and Falcon and Black Panther upon his return to Marvel. Since that time, Mister Miracle, like all the New Gods characters have been stuck in that loop Gerber warned about, cycling toward different creators' visions of their Neo-Ragnarok.

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