Friday, January 23, 2015

Fourth World Fridays: Mister Miracle #7--"The Apokolips Trap!!"


Partly because of the nature of the times, and partly due to the work itself, Kirby and Stan Lee’s comics started to garner a certain level of cachet with a more culturally discriminating crowd as the 60s wore on. College students and other cultural commentators began to focus their attention on Marvel’s superhero work, praising it for any number of reasons, and Lee was certainly happy to encourage them. This new gravitas they attributed to Kirby’s work seems to have made him more determined to lend depth and meaning to his comics, which is what helped spawn the Fourth World in the first place. Fortunately, Kirby never started taking himself so seriously that he forgot what had made people love his work in the first place; so when, for example, he started to incorporate literary references into his work, far from being pretentious, it was usually as delightfully insane and entertaining as anything else he did. (Well, OK, maybe it was a little pretentious.)

On the other hand, comics have been borrowing (and “borrowing”) from literature since they first began; The Hulk is just Dr. Jekyll crossed with Frankenstein’s monster, the Joker owes a huge debt to Victor Hugo’s “The Man Who Laughs”, and so on. So it didn’t have to be literary pretentions that inspired Kirby to use “Oliver Twist” as the basis for Mister Miracle, but that may be why Kirby felt the need to make the point more clearly in this and future installments, starting with a return to where Scott grew up: Granny Goodness’s Happiness Home on Apokolips.

On Apololips, an “Aero-carrier” discharges a load of frightened, miserable kids into the hands of a group of “Harassers”, who make it absolutely plain that the kids aren’t here on a field trip. “When the worms disembark, let ‘em know where they are!!” Bellows one meatheaded creep in unlovely close-up. “No Goddling!! No Faltering!!” screams another, though I’m kind of assuming he meant “coddling”. Proper spelling will not be tolerated on Apokolips!

The point is made ad nauseum over the course of four pages, as the Harassers sneer cruelly and begin marshalling their pathetic charges across the plain, beneath the ominous shadow of Darkseid’s statue, and into the waiting arms of Granny Goodness. No opportunity is spared to dole out a punitive whack, and of course there’s much talk of molding them from quaking little wussies into disciplined soldiers. Granny herself, of course, provides both the carrot and the stick, offering cooing, sarcastic words of encouragement to the kiddies right before encouraging her lieutenants to boot them in the behind. She spends a moment chatting with her right-hand man, Hoogin, who we learn was once much higher-ranked but has been busted down—seems he was the leader of a squadron that was home to a certain mister Scott Free, and accepted responsibility for his escape, hence his demotion. Nevertheless, he’s itching to get his hands on Scott once more, an opportunity Granny assures him he will soon have.

Meanwhile, back at Casa Del Free, we’re witnessing a tearful scene as Scott and Barda make plans to return to Apokolips, following up their decision of last issue. As usual for this series, the motivations are a little vague, but the idea seems to be that Scott’s prior escape was somehow bending the rules, whereas if he goes back and escapes again in full view of everyone, he’ll have earned his freedom under these Apokoliptian codes of conduct we keep hearing about, and they’ll have to leave him alone. Or something. Look, don’t ask me—I think that being able to escape from an incredibly hostile and well-guarded fortress-planet in another dimension ought to count as an achievement no matter the circumstances under which it’s done. But apparently Scott, and for that matter Darkseid, don’t see it that way.

Oberon is, predictably, giving Scott a hard time about this decision. “Don’t fill this room with sentimental slop!” sneers Barda. “Just say good-bye—and blow!!” There follows one of those scenes you always get in buddy movies, where the two characters are insulting each other to mask the fact that they really care about each other. It ends with Obie and Barda hugging while Obie calls her a “loudmouthed, military, man-killing harpy” and Barda stutters, “Oh, shut-up!-- or I’ll—I’ll—" 

Anyway, Barda and Scott whisk themselves away to Grayborders, while Oberon suffers a last-minute attack of nerves or something and goes running into the room, screaming at them not to go, as they fade from view. “Oberon eyes the wisp of vapor where his friends have been! --And knows that he’s truly--alone!” Yeah, laying it on a bit thick there, aren’t you, Kirby?

I mentioned “Grayborders”, the region of Apokolips to which the pair are headed—but it’s not the same area in which the Orphanage is located—that would be “Night-Time”. I think the idea is that part of Apokolips is constantly in daylight and part in shadow—presumably, the part that faces New Genesis is the “light” area. Though obviously that would make for a pretty inhospitable environment. More inhospitable than it already is, I mean.

Anyway, Barda has taken them to the border instead of the actual Orphanage region because…wait, why?


Oh, it’s because Barda is insane.

Seriously, she literally materializes them right under a patrol. I guess she couldn’t control that part of it, but she was literally cackling about “fighting their way” to the orphanage as they faded out, and when the patrol orders them to stay put, she starts barking at them that she wants to commandeer their vehicle. “You recognize an officer’s uniform—don’t you?” she bellows. Given that the Female Furies don’t seem to wear anything resembling a consistent uniform, this seems more than a little like picking a fight. Which it is. Barda brings a column down on the hapless patrolmen (Shouting “Run a check on this, you clod!!!”) to which Scott calmly replies, “Well—as they say—in the standard cliché—the fat’s in the fire!!” “Sure! I like it that way!!” responds Barda, and proceeds to hijack a car and ride it into downtown Apokalips. It’s like Grand Theft Auto: Apokolips Edition.

As the two of them blast down the “Long-Shadow” road to Night-Time, their car is suddenly brought to a grinding halt by a saboteur’s blast, and it is here that Scott meets his latest opponent: Kanto the Weapon-Master.

Despite looking like a guy who the Renfest nerds beat up, Kanto’s able to overcome Barda with her own Mega-Rod, prompting Scott’s surrender. And if you guessed that he’s about to put him in an elaborate deathtrap from which Scott will escape using some heretofore-unseen gadget, give yourself a gold star!

In this case, the trap is strapping Scott into a metronome that moves back and forth against a target, while Kanto’s men take shots at him.

The escape involves, literally, deploying an airbag. No, I’m not kidding.

Geez, I could laugh death in the face too, if I had a giant inflatable cocoon that I could deploy every time things looked hot. To hell with it, I could use something like that anyway. “Hey, Adam, did you finish that TPS report?” WHOMP! “Damn, I thought I saw him in here, but the room is empty except for a gigantic cocoon of some sort.”

Scott traps Kanto in another cocoon, while leaping free of his own, but is quickly ensnared by Kanto’s men again (prompting the hilarious “horseplay” line at the top of this post). They rope his boot and start dragging him around in an Aero-cycle, but Scott escapes by—no, not unwinding the cable from his leg, but by sending an electrical charge from his shoe up the wire to the vehicle, causing it to explode. Hey, here’s an idea, Kanto: take Scott’s damn boots off. Then we’ll see who’s mister fancy-pants escapist.

After all that, Kanto just hauls Scott up and points Barda’s Mega-Rod at him point blank…but Scott’s able to talk his way out of it, mostly because Kanto’s grown bored with trying to kill him, and because Scott knows how to pour on the flattery. Kanto laughs and lets them proceed onwards to the Orphanage, where Scott has a really anticlimactic encounter with Hoogin, basically marching up and demanding that he challenge Granny to trial by combat. Granny orders Scott sent out to “Section Zero” to face one of Kirby’s most bizarre creations: The Lump.

So now I’m wondering why Oliver Twist didn’t end with the hero battling a glob of pink protoplasm in a mental arena. To hell with literary references, Kirby outdid the classics.

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