Monday, October 3, 2011

The Seven Soldiers of Victory - Part 6 (Mister Miracle)

Mister Miracle is a character created by Jack Kirby as part of his Fourth World Epic. The series followed the exploits of a Super Escape Artist named Scott Free. The idea of a Super-Hero Escape Artist was inspired by fellow comic artist Jim Steranko - who before his comic carrier performed as an illusionist and escape artist.

Scott Free, along with his future wife Big Barda and manager Oberon would go on performing miraculous stunts of the death-defying arts, while likewise trying to escape the past Scott and Barda came from - having grown up and escape of the Dark God world of Apokolips. At some point during the series Scott Free took in a young orphan boy named Shilo Norman. Shilo had witnessed his brother's death by criminals, and was placed with Scott Free to keep the boy safe. Shilo was somewhat rebellious but eventually situated to life with his new friends - who helped teach him the same skills Scott Free had be taught - that of being a Super Escape Artist.

Mister Miracle

When Jack Kirby's Fourth World and Mister Miracle series was abruptly canceled, Shilo Norman wasn't used very much in comics, beyond a few appearances here and there. Having been taught to be a Super Escape Artist by Scott Free - it seemed natural for Shilo to take the mantle of his mentor.

This series takes us to Shilo at the top of his game. He's grown up and taken his skills to become a rich and famous escape artist - shouldering the success that typically accompanies fame and fortune. The series starts at Mister Miracle's latest and most dangerous performance - escaping a black hole.

The acts of Mister Miracle have always been outrageous - with the super-technology of the New Gods usually being the easiest answer for "how did he get out of that one?" - though it was usually through preparation and quick wits that got Scott Free out of all of his traps. Escaping a black hole - though - was defying the laws of psychics, so relying on his Mother Box, a common tool from the News Gods, seemed appropriate.

When Shilo went through into the event horizon of the black hole he disappeared -- immediately the series shifts into an existential mode. Pascal Ferry's art in the first issue was well suited for this - as his soft and effortless pencils where mixed with incredible digital colors to create very beautiful scenes of pretty much anything. Inside the black hole Shilo finds himself suddenly in an audience with Metron. Metron is neither of the Good or Evil Gods - but something of an observer of both sides (though usually siding with New Genesis and New Gods). He rides is a floating chair, called Mobius Chair, able to travel through time and all the dimensional planes of existence.

When I describe Grant Morrison's writing as complex, or confusing, this type of duologue is the prime example of the reader barely being able to understand or follow what is going on. Everything in the Mister Miracle series is more akin to a drug trip than anything else. Yet there are some very important clues being told by Metron. None of it really makes sense, especially at the time when this was first published -- but even looking back, knowing what is being referenced here - it's still confusing. It resulted in the Mister Miracle issues being some of the weakest and less well received part of the Seven Soldier series. Yet - the importance of these chapters to the DC Universe cannot be over-stated. That importance, though, wouldn't be seen by readers from a few years -- but that is sort of what Morrison was aiming for, I think.

The confusing story of this series was not helped when Pascal Ferry, for a reason we still don't know, suddenly abandoned the book after issue #1. Suddenly scripts that where probably intended and built around Ferry's strengths where placed in another artist's hands. Freddie Williams II took over art for the final 3 issues. Williams was still a new artist in comics at the time - but he managed to do the art for what must have been a tremendously challenging script. On the whole the issues where weaker because of Ferry's abrupt departure - but Williams proved successful it getting the art for the series done.

Anyway - to make a long explanation short - Metron is warning Shilo that the New God are dead. That they are now in the bodies of man-kind -- that there was a War in Heaven, and the wrong side won. The Dark Gods had proved victorious - and Shilo, now, had the last Mother Box in existence, and the Dark Gods wanted it.

What was confusing at the time, though, was that the New God weren't dead. They still appeared in comic from time to time - so saying they where dead didn't initially make much sense.

After hearing Metron's words Shilo comes out of the black hole, safe as planned. Afterwards Shilo was seeing the world in a different light. He was deeply depressed and confused about his lot in life - and went to weekly therapy sessions with Dr. Dezard. Shilo's manager and friend, ZZ, wasn't much help in comforting Shilo.

Shilo was taken to a club to try and help him unwind and relax. He was introduced to several strippers - but these ladies seemed very familiar. In Jack Kirby's Fourth World there were a group of female warriors called the "Female Furies". All of these strippers mirrored the Female Furies - including the leader of that group, Granny Goodness (who was not good at all). There are random flashes of them being demons underneath the surface, though Shilo didn't always notice it. All he knew was that he felt uncomfortable with these ladies.

Everywhere Shilo went people mirrored the characters in the New Gods series. A disabled and mentally retarded man began speaking to him - as Metron (his motorized wheelchair was a stand-in for Metron's Mobius Chair.) Shilo thought he was going insane - and his therapist seemed to be doing nothing but making it worse.

All sorts of weird events seemed to have all of reality, and all of Shilo's success, falling apart around him. Drive-by cars where shooting at him - mirroring the Grim Reaper of the New Gods. Shilo managed to survive it all with his training and skills - but the continued assault of reality no longer making sense was wearing on him.

A new act, mirroring the look, costume, and style of Mister Miracle came onto the scene - known as Baron Bedlam - who was stealing every single act Mister Miracle had been planning to do himself. Professionally Shilo knew something was very wrong - seeing footage of Baron Bedlam's acts - recognizing that Bedlam wasn't escaping the traps he was put in, yet always came out alive and fine.

Eventually it's revealed that Baron Bedlam is actually one of the villains of the Dark Gods - known as Doctor Bedlam. Bedlam had no physical body to speak of - but he was able to place his consciousness inside animated bodies - which he allowed to be destroyed during acts, and then merely transfer to a new body afterwards.

Shilo confronted and attacked Bedlam, and came in contact with the source of all this confusion and misery - Boss Dark Side. Acting as the leader of a violent fight club, called Club Dark Side - this was no doubt the ruler of Apokolips in a human body. There are even points where it becomes clear that these bodies are not lasting - as the soul of Darkseid was invariably wearing the body out. Boss Dark Side had Shilo kidnapped and dragged out to the woods, where he was beaten, doused with gasoline, and set on fire. Shilo's Mother Box was taken - where it was dissected by Doctor Dezard (who turned out to in fact be Desaad - the sadist right-hand man of Darkseid).

Shilo survived his experience - but was now trapped in a full body cast, with all of his skin burnt away. His life could not become any less of a hell than it already was. Reality continued to break down for him - as Darkseid and Metron waged for control of his soul - as Shilo experienced a thousand different ways he could die. Shilo eventually came back to a memory he had before he had taken on the Mantle of Mister Miracle. He was working as a security expert at a super-human jail known as the Slab. (This is from one of Shilo's many guest appearances, where he was utilized in a series called "Joker's Last Laugh", where the jail the Joker broke out of was where he worked.) Shilo remembered going to a prison cell of a delusional wandering God who was placed in chains. (I assume he simply fell into the prison system and locked up as any large super-powered being would be if he posed a possible threat. No other explanation is really given.) This large god was named Aurakles - who is notable for being an Oracle the JLA and JSA had encountered during the original Seven Soldiers of Victory story line. Aurakles gave many predictions - the most important being the Spear of Aurakles, that was never thrown, that would strike and skill the evil Queen. This being Aurakles was set to be taken off and supposedly put to death - the people picking him up being from the Dark Side Club.

The answer to Shilo's confusion was all boiled down to a single incident in his life - the death of his brother, and how he missed him. This expansive mind-trip then came to and end as Shilo meet with Metron again like he had done before. Shilo had finally re-found his courage and confidence again -- and was then suddenly jolted back to reality.

7 days had come and gone since Mister Miracle had jumped into that original black hole. It was assumed he the performer had simply died when he hadn't come out -- but after seven days he suddenly came rushing out; this time more complete and whole. Apparently most of what Shilo had experienced had never actually happened - and his Mother Box was still with him. Shilo now knew what he had to do - knowing he had been chosen by the New Gods to be their avatar of life. The Dark Gods have always sought after an Anti-Life Equation (an ability to rob someone of their free will, and control them completely). Some people are immune to the Anti-Life Equation - and the News God has chosen Shilo to be their avatar - their Life Equation.

The series ended with Shilo remembering his brother. I have to say - the "this was all a dream" conclusion wasn't very satisfying, and the inclusion of Shilo's brother, as an answer to this entire quest, came completely out of left field -- only being mentioned in issue #4. I've read Jack Kirby's Mister Miracle series - and even I had forgotten that Shilo had a brother. So on a number of levels this series failed to connect even with ardent fans. Don't get me wrong - this mini-series is interesting and good for what it gives, but the change in artists and inherent plotting of the tale just made this entry in the Seven Soldiers series the weakest of the series. Shilo Norman's story concluded in the final chapter of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

After the Seven Soldiers...

While the re-invention of the Mister Miracle series didn't prove that successful, the changes made to Shilo Norman and the New Gods did come to fruition. Several years later it was revealed that the Light and Dark Gods did have their final battle - with them all being killed. The "War in Heaven" was suppose to take place off-screen, left to the reader's imagination -- but DC had a very weak and hampered mini-series called "Death of the New Gods", attempting to explain how all the Gods died. It's better to just ignore that series, as it didn't match up with what Grant Morrison was doing in his "Final Crisis" mini-series.

See, essentially Darkseid did win the war. He had discovered the Anti-Life Equation -- but Darkseid was killed, and somehow he fell backwards through time. All the dead gods fell back through time - finding themselves in the souls of humanity at least two years before their actual fall. The Good Gods where only able to act through Shilo Norman -- while the victors of the war where able to place themselves into the bodies of humans.

Essentially Final Crisis was about the Dark Gods already being in the souls of man-kind, and unknowingly where corrupting things. Similar to the Sheeda - the Dark Gods' invasion was silent, unseen - and they had already won by the time any of the heroes knew how to react. Darkeid finally found a body, a good human soul who they poisoned and corrupted beyond recognition, to act as a vessel to Darkeid, who could otherwise not remain in any single body for long. After finally resurrecting himself in a proper body Darkeid unleashed the Anti-Life equation all across the internet - infecting almost every soul and person on the planet. They all spoke with one voice - one body - all of humanity in service to Darkeid. The Dark Gods had won, completely -- and it was only through the efforts of Superman, Batman, and other heroes that Darkeid was defeated.

Shilo Norman appeared in the series as a slick hero who knew what was happened and was working to prepare to fight against the Dark Gods.

Just to be clear - Final Crisis was a very dark and oppressing story (Morrison has even said he was very depressed writing it, having to submerge his mind into the idea of "Evil Winning") but it was also a grand and epic story -- just as complex, confusing, and full filling as this Seven Soldiers of Victory series was as well. So while the Mister Miracle part of the Seven Soldiers series wasn't a big success - it laid a lot of ground-work for a very big, high-minded concept story that I really liked and enjoyed.

With the DC Universe rebooting, it's unknown what form Mister Miracle is going to take as the News Gods are being re-invented in the pages of Justice League. I don't know what's going to happen to Scott Free, let alone Shilo Norman - who might not exist at all. We'll see.

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