Sci-fi adventuring! Yay!
A few years ago, the only issue of The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury to see print was one of the best single issues of 2008. Brandon Thomas and Lee Ferguson's story of Miranda, her guy Friday Jack Warning, the mysterious illness that's killing her, and their quest to free the Rebel Ronin from his impregnable prison (inside a cosmic Rubik's Cube) was a great read.
Then, Archaia went into their free fall for a while, and many of their series simply didn't come out. When they righted the ship, they began releasing the old series as collected graphic novels. While that blunts the impact of the conceit of this book, it doesn't change the fact that Miranda Mercury is a superb comic. It costs $24.95, by the way, and the credits are: Brandon Thomas (writer), Lee Ferguson (penciler/colorist), Marc Deering (inker), Felix Serrano (colorist), Jordan Boyd (colorist), Craig Cermak (colorist), James Brown (colorist), and Matty Ryan (letterer).
Miranda Mercury is a science heroine, zipping around the universe solving insoluble problems and rescuing those in need. Thomas and Ferguson came up with a fun hook: the first issue of the mini-series was listed as issue #295 of the apocryphal ongoing, leading up to the big issue #300, where the reader would learn Miranda's fate. This is a great idea because it implies hundreds of adventures that Miranda has had over the years but also because it let Thomas jump right into the story without worrying about an "origin" - obviously, he could have done that even if he listed the issue as "#1" (which, of course, technically, this is), but which has a different kind of feel to it if it's "issue #295." The fragile conceit, of course, was destroyed when Archaia restructured and the single issues no longer came out, but it's interesting that as an epilogue to the main story in this collection, Thomas and Ferguson do "issue #124," which, again, makes it feel like we've been reading the adventures of Miranda for years and she has a long history of being awesome.
We learn in the first issue that Miranda is dying of some unknown affliction, and later we learn it's a vaguely-defined poison that a being called Cyrus Vega injected her with. Why he did it we don't learn until the epilogue of the book, but we know she's dying. We also know that she's trying to keep it to herself, even from Jack, who's her best friend.
Thomas makes sure the specter of her death hangs over the entire book, but that doesn't make this a depressing comic. It's slightly melancholy, but like Miranda herself, Thomas doesn't let the tone become too gloomy. There are still Rubik's Cubes to open, glass planets to save, Time Raiders to defeat, superheroes to thwart, and torture machines to endure. In fact, the point of the comic is not even whether Miranda lives or dies (and I'm not going to get into what happens at the end of issue #300, if you must know). Thomas has far more on his mind than that.
The issues are loosely tied together but tell single issue stories, all showing what Miranda can do and why she's important. In "The Riddle of Rebel Ronin," she and Jack solve the puzzle keeping the Rebel Ronin trapped. Whoever releases him gets one wish, and Miranda's wish reveals her integrity. Thomas also shows how clever she is when she figures out what Jack is trying to do (granted, her intelligence was boosted by drugs, but still). "Miranda Mercury and the Doomed Glass Planet" introduces us to an old friend and mentor named Vincent, who asks Miranda to save his planet but hasn't told her everything. This story is in a similar vein to the classic Green Arrow/Green Lantern "What about the black skins, Hal?" tale, but Thomas is far more subtle about it and Miranda is far more bad-ass than Hal or Ollie ever was. Issue #297, "Miranda Mercury and the Raiders of ____ Time," shows Miranda and Jack rescuing Carlita Crane, a superhero, from a sinister auction, and put a whole bunch of bad guys out of business, which leads to the next issue, "Miranda Mercury and the Infinity Class," where our heroine is wrongly suspected of murder and has to fight the entire galactic justice league to prove it. In "The Perils of Yor," the next issue, Miranda and Jack are tortured by the son of an old villain (whose story we see in a brief prologue at the beginning of the collection), and that takes us to "Miranda Mercury and the Timely Death," in which we discover the "secret origin" of Miranda's grandfather, James, the progenitor of the remarkable Mercury family. These issues allow Thomas to give us an idea of who Miranda is, why she doesn't want Jack to try to save her, and what she believes is important.
We might not understand why Miranda doesn't want Jack to save her life, although early on we suspect it's because she's a heroine and heroines are too tough to admit they need rescuing. As we learn more about her, Thomas shows us that it's far deeper than that, and there's a terrible tragedy behind her reasons for wanting nature to take its course. Will Jack accept her decision? Ah, that's something you need to find out for yourself!
Thomas not only does a nice job with the plotting, he's a good scripter, too, so the book zips by even as Thomas fills in the story. He believes that readers should pay attention, so not much is spelled out - this collection demands careful reading and even, perhaps, more than one reading, because there's a lot going on and while we can pick up the main points, a lot of dialogue loops back to earlier issues and events, casting new light upon them. Thomas throws us into the action, introduces gobs of wild characters and expects us to keep track of them, and reveals the way the protagonists feel by how they act and what they don't say rather than through long soliloquies. He does allow Miranda to show her emotions, but only after we've gotten to know her and only under extreme conditions. The final issue, "Miranda Mercury and the Final Lesson," shows one reason why she became the woman she is in the earlier issues, and it's a gripping story of betrayal and failure. Thomas does a wonderful job making sure that Miranda and Jack are interesting characters that the reader relates to (even though they're futuristic adventurers) before plunging us into the emotional maelstrom. We get a hint of the steel in Miranda in the first few issues, especially issue #296, but her self-control and sense of justice become even more impressive the further in we go. Amazingly, this is a marvelous philosophical comic, even though there's plenty of fighting and explosions and weird creatures.
Ferguson has a lot to do with the subtle way Thomas gets his points across, because his dynamic pop art keeps the book moving nicely along, with the pencils and colors leaping off the page and Ferguson's page and panel designs challenging the reader every step of the way. Ferguson places panels all over the place, never confusing anyone but always making you pay attention, and every so often, Thomas gives him something amazing - the Rubik's Cube sequence in issue #295 is brilliant, for instance.
"The Raiders of ____ Time!" features black spaces where time is displaced, and then, when Miranda and Jack infiltrate the bad guys' lair, we have to turn the book upside-down to read it, and Ferguson draws a double-page spread that's breathtaking in its ambition and execution. In issue #299, Ferguson has to tell the visual story almost completely through Miranda's and Jack's facial expressions, as they're stuck in a dark prison cell for most of the time. When Thomas gets a bit expository in issue #300, Ferguson gives us smaller panels on a white background, and he and the colorists shift from "our" world, which is in black-and-white, to the colorful future and the mysterious stranger who saves James Mercury from his fate. The one strange complaint I have about the art is that it appears that Ferguson has subtle changes to his style for each issue, and I can't tell if it's deliberate. I don't know why it would have been, but issue #295, the first issue, looks much more crisp than issue #298, for instance, even though the latter issue was presumably drawn later in Ferguson's career, when he would be more intricate and confident. The book has the same inker, so perhaps the bevy of colorists who worked on the book each add or subtract something from Ferguson's pencils. It's not that big a deal - even the "worst" issue, which is probably issue #298, is pretty danged cool - but it is somewhat odd. Overall, however, Ferguson's art helps bring Thomas's glorious script to vibrant life, and it also helps conceal a bit that you're not just reading a wiz-bang sci-fi romp. That's pretty handy!
I've been waiting to read the rest of Miranda Mercury for over three years, and I'm really glad the rest of the book is as good as the first issue. Thomas and Ferguson have done other work in the interim, but it would be nice if this book will show the rest of the comics world what they can do and The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury gets the love it deserves. You could start by buying it yourself!