Mister Miracle Special #1 (DC) by Mark Evanier, Steve Rude, Mike Royer, Anthony Tollin, Todd Klein, Richard Bruning, Robert Greenberger
There's something very comforting about Mister Miracle Special #1. It's fun yet unremarkable, and takes itself exactly as seriously as it deserves. A lot of story gets packed in, but so much of it is so goofy and/or low-stakes, it ends up being airy overall. While some sections fall flat, most of the book is successfully zany, and there are even some legitimate superheroics in a couple of scenes. It's hard to do something this feel-good without it becoming saccharine, but this is just sweet enough not to be off-putting, a nice, simple story about two super-people in love working on their relationship.
At the beginning of the comic, Mister Miracle/Scott Free is getting back into death-defying escapes, like being locked in a safe that is dropped from a plane, which his wife Big Barda is not happy about. She understandably doesn't like to watch her husband willingly put his life on the line, but Scott loves escaping and is having a hard time giving it up. Plus they need money, and his stunts are the best way to earn it, or so he tries to argue. Barda isn't buying it so, in the name of love, Scott agrees to no more escapes. This lasts for what might be only a few hours but can't be more than a day (it's hard to say exactly how much time passes but it's pretty immediate), at which point the forces of Darkseid attack Scott and Barda in their home. Darkseid's attack is part of his larger plan to make the people of Earth turn their backs on the superheroes of the world, but the real significance of it for this narrative is that is creates a huge hole in Barda and Scott's roof. Meanwhile, their friend/housemate/co-worker Oberon finds them jobs in a circus, and because of the property damage, they're in no position to turn those jobs down. So Scott goes right back to professional escaping, though nothing as daring or extreme as what he was doing on his own. Barda and Oberon join the circus, too, performing feats of strength and feats of juggling, respectively, and together the trio's skills are enough save the circus from going under.
Then, predictably enough, Darkseid strikes again, this time sending Granny Goodness to do his dirty work, who has a personal connection to Scott and Barda both. Granny designs a super-elaborate and dangerous series of traps as a sort of obstacle course for Scott, and kidnaps Big Barda in order to force him to participate. The plan is to have Mister Miracle die on TV so the whole world will have its superhero faith shaken. Of course, Scott foils this plan by making it past all the traps in one piece and freeing his wife, and then the two of them proceed to take down all the remaining baddies almost effortlessly. Then Darkseid himself shows up, and Scott delivers a passionate if unconvincing monologue about how, if Darkseid just keeps killing everybody, someday he'll be the only person left in existence. Which, I must say, sounds to me like the kind of point that might encourage Darkseid to keep it up, but I'm admittedly not all that familiar with the character. The speech works here, or it appears to, anyway, because Darkseid FOOFFF's away, and our heroes walk into the sunset with their arms around each other. Not a literal sunset—they just head out of the circus tent—but we see them in silhouette in the final panel, with their backs to us, so the effect is the same.
That final shot is just one of many well-executed tiny moments, little one-panel beats that the art team of Steve Rude, Mike Royer, and Anthony Tollin totally nail. The best of the bunch was probably when Oberon is suddenly struck by the fear that once Scott and Barda have enough circus money to fix their home, they will settle into domesticity and abandon him. There's a close-up shot of Oberon's face, seen from below as he looks down in quiet, resolved sadness, partially obscured by a dark shadow. It's a stirring image, and even though that plotline gets dropped almost immediately, this one panel that's hyper-focused on it is effective. There are also a lot of very skinny panels inserted throughout the comic, almost like Rude was trying to cram in too much at once, but never quite crossing that line into overcrowding the page. Rude is able to fill these small spaces without them feeling cramped, utilizing them skillfully to add tiny details or emotional beats to the story, and never over-doing it or weighing anything down. Even the pages with the largest panel counts are crisp and clear, which helps with the generally quick pace of the book.
As nice as these smaller bits were, it was the biggest visuals that stuck out the most and lasted the longest in my memory. There's a full-page splash where Mister Miracle is locked in a safe, and the borders of the page act as the safe's walls, so that the character is physically confined by the comic itself. Laid overtop of his folded-up form are flashes of all the things going through his head as he tries to break free, memories of his past and musings on his romance with Barda. It's all great-looking, with Mister Miracle's body acting as the background for his thoughts, but also being it's own awesome piece of art that highlights one of the core aspects of the character. Earlier, there's a perfect bird's-eye view of the giant hole in the roof of Barda and Scott's house, and we see them through the hole as they take in the extent of the damage for the first time. It's a genuinely funny moment, even if the comedy of the gentlest variety, and the art both underlines the seriousness of the situation and amps up the humor. When it comes to visual gags, though, my favorite was seeing the ringmaster/narrator character (see below) dressed up as a cabdriver. He's hilarious and adorable in his bowtie and driving gloves, his sleeves rolled up to reveal his all-too-slender arms, a jaunty newsboy cap on his head. It makes me laugh every time I look at it, and considering that whole character is basically just set dressing, the fact that so much work and detail went into changing his look for that single panel says a lot about the effort this art team is bringing to the table.
The chemistry between Barda and Scott is excellent as well. There is a lot of sincere affection and concern displayed by each of them for one another all throughout the story. Her nervousness and subsequent anger when he's doing the escape that opens the comic, along with his genuinely apologetic response, lays the groundwork for their strong-but-not-perfect relationship, a very realistic love created in this fantastical world. That the romance is so grounded is a big benefit for the story, because the central conflicts are a) Barda wanting Scott to give up escaping, and b) Scott and Barda's shared life being threatened by the villains, and both of these hinge on their relationship being something the reader cares about. The art, more than the script, is responsible for making that happen. Plus the characters just have excellent core designs, and physicalities that play well off each other, so in the hands of such a solid art team, there's a lot of good-looking material based solely on who the stars are.
I don't want to undersell Mark Evanier's writing, but it's definitely weaker than the art overall. There are some things in this narrative that just fail to click from start to finish, most notably the fact that Darkseid's motivations are not compelling in the least. Because his moves against Scott and Barda are only the first small steps in a much bigger scheme to make superheroes less revered by the general population, it's hard to get invested in the outcome. We know right away that, whatever happens here, it's not going to encompass the entirety of his plan, so seeing him defeated isn't as satisfying as it could be if our heroes were dismantling his whole operation. Also, the final confrontation between Darkseid and Mister Miracle amounts to the latter giving the former a stern lecture, which is about as anti-climactic as a superhero story can get, especially on the heels of such an action-packed sequence where Scott makes his way through Granny's various traps and then he and Barda whomp on everybody. Darkseid also flees without explanation, so the whole finale is sort of a bust, made even worse by the less-than-thrilling set-up of the primary antagonist's goals.
That said, there's a lot that does work in this story. It cares about its characters just as much as they care about each other, so most of the interplay between Barda, Scott, and/or Oberon is spot on. There is a core decency to the comic, a respect for anyone and everyone that I enjoyed quite a bit. The circus troupe isn't presented as a group of weirdos or freaks; they may have an odd look to them, but they're still people, with all the same capacity for emotion as the rest of us. Nobody is one-note, is what I'm saying, not even the ever-maniacal Granny Goodness (though she may not be wholly three-dimensional) nor even the aforementioned ringmaster. Admittedly, the ringmaster isn't very fleshed out, serving mostly as a living gimmick, a way for Evanier to introduce characters and set scenes by simply having someone announce out loud what we're seeing. Still, it's loads more entertaining than having narrative captions establish the same details, and the ringmaster does have a distinct voice that makes all of his lines amusing. He's got the exact right energy for this comic, which is actually a good way to describe the book as a whole. It's very energetic, and that energy transfers into the reader and carries us along for the ride.
Mister Miracle Special #1 isn't groundbreaking, phenomenal, or even necessarily all that noteworthy. It's not going to provoke any deep contemplation or powerful emotional reactions. What it is, though, is a good time, a simple tale told simply, done by creators who seem to have had a really good time putting it together.