Friday, October 28, 2011

Fourth World Fridays: Mister Miracle #2--"X-Pit"

Mister Miracle #2 begins with a rather startling composition--another Kirby innovation that's left its mark on the comics medium. Instead of "gutters" dividing the panels, the images are mounted in and seperated by a bizarre latticework of Kirbian machinery, some of which has a creepily organic shape that's vaguely reminiscent of H. R. Giger. The images within the panels are those of Scott Free and his new assistant, Oberon, setting up for a new display of death-defiance, but the panels, and an overlying series of captions that suggest a ticker-tape readout, do a nice job of suggesting the looming presence of something called "Overlord". "I-AM-OVERLORD--I-CREATE-I-DESTROY--NOW-I-DESTROY--!--SCOTT-FREE-DIES!"

Of course, he can't literally be watching Scott with the same omniscient POV as we, the readers, are, because if he was he'd see that his imminent attack is about to face a slight hitch. Scott has assembled a series of parts using Apokaloptish know-how (and, presumably, the help of Motherbox) into an android duplicate that he calls a "follower". The idea is that it will ape his moves exactly, allowing him to place it in dangerous situations so that he can time and practice his routines without putting himself in jeopardy. That's actually pretty clever, even though we never see him using followers ever again. Anyway, with he and his double strapped into identical straitjackets and balancing precariously on two seperate platforms, Oberon places some kind of volatile explosive (apparently nitroglycerin) on the follower's platform.

Unfortunately, Overlord chooses that exact moment to strike, with a brain bolt from his oversized mechanical forehead. (This is one of only three panels in which we actually see Overlord, and I have to say, he's one of Kirby's creepiest character designs:)

The Nitro goes kerblooey, catching both Scott and his follower in the blast. Fortunately, since only the follower was dressed as Mr. Miracle, it caught the worst of Overlord's assault. Oberon quickly straps on a fire extinguisher and douses the flames, all the while giving Scott an "I told you so" speech.

Scott, however, managed to get out of his straitjacket just fine; it's the Motherbox strapped to his arm that he's concerned about. "She is dear to me--and I must help her!" "Y-you mean that thing--is alive?" stammers Oberon. "In a way, she is!" replies Scott. "But now, she's hurt--weak--I must pour out my love--my belief--to make her respond!" Jeez, Scott, just call tech support like a normal person.

Motherbox turns out OK, though "the follower seems beyond hope." Mistaking the attempted assassination for human error, Scott immediately goes back to planning another escape. But of course, Overlord sends another blast at him, frying him to a cinder.

...Wait, no. That doesn't happen. Because Overlord was apparently programmed by Wile E. Coyote, and thus is unable to repeat the same attempt twice once it has failed, no matter how unlikely the circumstances that led to said failure.

Meanwhile, things are about to get very goofy as we meet Overlord's master...Granny Goodness. Granny's another of the more memorable villains of the Fourth World series, and in a sense she's Scott's real archnemesis. She's also a very, very weird creation. She's so weird, in fact, that she sort of goes past being dopey and back around into sort of creepy. Mostly you just have to wonder at the demented imagination that would fuse Dickens and DeSade into this evil old battle-axe who's both the head of an orphanage and Darkseid's main military disciplinarian. If you can get past the goofiness, it's thematically logical, but man...

...the goofiness is pretty hard to get past. Adding to it are her dorky, pointed-helmet shock troops, who take great pride in said pointed helmets. No, seriously. They act jealous of Overlord, who they see as competing for Granny's affections, and encourage Granny to punish him, but Granny instead turns her wrath on her men, beating them with a billy-club, all the while berating them in a weird mash-up of supervillainese and the kind of condescending baby-talk mothers use on their young children. This is just SO psychologically messed up I don't know where to begin. And yet the insane part is that it fits neatly with Kirby's themes of power and domination; it's just the kind of bizarre scenario you'd never expect to see outside a comic book.

Anyhow, back at the ranch, Mr. M has apparently abandoned his nitro-balancing act and has moved on to the stunt featured on the cover. Despite Oberon's speech bubble there, Scott does indeed escape just in time to duck out of the way of the flying spears. MISLEADING COVER ALERT!!!

Oberon does his typical, "Oh, my heart! Scott, you'll be the death of me!" act while all this is happening. A word about Oberon: his main job in this comic is to express horror and panic at the various feats Mr. Miracle is going to attempt, the idea being that this will make it seem all the more "miraculous" when he does escape. The real effect is to make Oberon extremely obnoxious, not to mention just a little hard to believe: I mean, he's been an escape artist's assistant his whole life, and he's still gasping in disbelief that someone can pull this kind of stuff off?

Oberon does manage to segue artfully into quizzing Scott about his origins. Along with some other dialogue scattered throughout the issue, what becomes clear is that Scott escaped from Granny's orphanage/training facility on Apokalips via the Boom Tube, and Granny is determined to humble him, get him back, or kill him--preferably all three. While this might seem like a waste of Apokaliptish resources in the middle of what is, after all, a pretty far-reaching attempt at world domination (if not an all-out war), we will eventually learn there are some good reasons to focus on Scott specifically. For now, though, the main idea is that, by escaping Granny, Scott has become a living symbol of freedom and rebellion against authority. Can't have that in the new world order!

Oberon is momentarily satisfied, even if he only understands less than half of what Scott is talking about. Turning to clean up Scott's mess (gee, that's awfully nice of him) Obey is startled by Scott's follower, which despite being "beyond hope" a few panels ago is still apparently possessed of enough life to get up and take some halting steps...JUST in time to coincidentally save Scott's bacon yet again. Granny's "Soldier Boys" are watching outside the window, and apparently see nothing suspicious in the fact that Mr. Miracle is lurching around like Lindsay Lohan on a bender (if that's not redundant). They smash their way inside and make off with Oberon and the android, but Scott himself sees them depart and follows them on his flying "Aero-discs".

Back at the ranch, there's a moment of consternation when Granny discovers the fraud, but luckily for her hapless minions Scott himself bursts in a moment later. Well, I'm assuming they didn't want to be punished, but you never know.

Granny hits a couple of buttons, and voila, Scott's aero-discs suddenly malfunction, sending him down a pit that opens in the floor. Good going, Scott. Seriously, why even bother having the follower start working again? They could have kidnapped the real Scott, for all the good it did him to remain free. Oh, wait, I get it--it's like a symbolic thing, man. Scott Free cannot be caged!

Scott and Obey plummet to the bottom of a very deep pit--that would be the X-Pit--but, fortunately, there's a gravitational reversal at the bottom that stops them from smashing all his bones. Apparently just sending Scott flying down a pit wasn't enough of a triumph for Granny; she has to devise another escape at the bottom. Scott and Obey quickly find themselves trapped within what looks an awful lot like Willy Wonka's Great Glass Elevator, except this one leads to...DEATH! The original Great Glass Elevator just led to pain, humiliation, and dismemberment.

Scott frantically starts racking his brain, trying to get inside Granny's head in order to affect an escape. Not a bad idea, in theory. Unfortunately, this is what they come up with:

MR. MIRACLE: Beneath her iron facade lies a hidden fear! I've seen it!
OBERON: She's no youngster! Perhaps it's just the simple fear of old age--and its insecurities!
MR. MIRACLE: Yes! She'll sacrifice anyone and anything--for gifts--rewards! On that premise--and with these studs--we must stake our lives!

And based on that logic, he proceeeds to start hitting buttons at random.

I guess I don't have what it takes to be a master escape artist and inspiration to humanity, because to me that made no goddamn sense whatsoever.

Anyway, it turns out he's activated a "torment circuit" which sends a gout of flame up beneath the glass cage to roast the pair alive--but a pressing the next button switches it to "the electro-shock cycle". "I feel like I've swallowed a thousand hot needles!" moans Oberon. "I must continue the cycle! I must press another of the studs!" moans Scott. So do it already, jackass! In fact, just press all the buttons as fast as you can! This isn't rocket science!

Alas, the next button unleashes a gout of quickly-rising mud, and in the time it takes him to lift Oberon over his head so he doesn't drown, Scott becomes trapped in the hardening mud.

Granny, in classic comic-book fashion, can't even be bothered to watch Scott suffer, which OF COURSE means that she's about to get a rude surprise when he and Obey come smashing into her living room and destroy a box on the table in front of her. Long and nonsensical story short, Scott did manage to struggle through the mud to press the next button, which unleashed radiation, which restored power to Motherbox, which enabled her to interface with Overlord and explode him, which let Scott and Oberon escape. And now here comes the twist: Overlord was a tiny little guy, only an inch tall, and he was in that box that got smashed! That is kind of cool! And also pointless!

GRANNY: You--you'll pay dearly for this!
MR. MIRACLE: And that brings me to my parting words! Dry up and blow away, Granny Goodness!

His parting words? Is Mr. Miracle Jerry Springer?

The two hop aboard the aero-discs and take off. "Fly faster, Scott!" whines Oberon. "I've got an eerie feeling that she's warming up for the second round!"

Well, gee, Oberon, I don't know. I mean, that was a pretty devastating riposte Scott delivered at the end there. I don't think she'll have the heart to try anything against you directly for several months after that, no sir!

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