This is the age of Tom King. Following the critical and commercial success of Marvel’s The Vision in 2015, the CIA Agent turned writer’s star has ascended at an incredible rate. Heralded for his lyrical ear for dialogue and keen eye for narrative structure, King has gone on to write the main Batman title in DC’s rebirth lineup and has even found surprising acclaim with the release of his and artist Lee Weeks’ Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1. And now, with Mister Miracle, King and his artistic collaborator Mitch Gerads are not only out to change the craft of comics– they’re out to change the world.
Mister Miracle follows Scott Free, a New God from legendary cartoonist Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga. Scott was born to the Highfather, ruler of the idyllic New Genesis, but traded to the evil New God Darkseid of Apokolips in exchange for Darkseid’s son Orion and a tenuous peace between the two worlds. He was raised in the depths of hell by the terrifying Granny Goodness, but eventually escaped and even found love with fellow orphan and mighty warrior, Big Barda. The two of them carved out a life on Earth together as Mister Miracle became a famous escape artist, but now everything has gone wrong. Scott’s depression has taken over his life. He’s overwhelmed and has even self-harmed. And then he gets called by Orion to wage war against Darkseid after the Highfather is killed. But even then, not all is as it seems. What’s real? What’s just in Scott’s mind? What is the truth?
Just prior to the release of Mister Miracle #3 last week, I sat down with Tom King to discuss Mister Miracle‘s themes of anxiety and paranoia. We talked about how Tom feels about his newfound success and how it has affected the series (or hasn’t). We talk about his hopes and his fears. And of course, we talk about the future.
Alex Lu: I don’t know if you read reception to your own work Tom, but I will say this—the reception to Mister Miracle thus far has been glowing. Coming off of The Vision, which also had this huge critical success. How much of the success from Mister Miracle did you anticipate? And has it affected the way you approached the series?
Tom King: I wrote a series called Omega Men, which I thought was so good, and I really loved it, and I thought I was killing it. And it was the lowest selling book in Marvel and DC. It was literally, of all the … there’s got to be 140 Superhero comic books that come out a month. And Omega Man was dead last.
So, I never think anything is going to succeed. I’m always thinking I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just going to write the best that I can, and see how it comes out.
King: Really? See? That’s what I’m saying! Nobody read that book and I loved it!
Lu: So, what is it that drives you when you write Mister Miracle?
King: You tell me if you feel this way: the world we’re living in now doesn’t make sense to me. I say that not just from a left/right politic thing, but I wake up every day and I see things that I never thought I’d see. I see us close to nuclear war for no reason. I see the Cubs winning the World Series. I see five hurricanes hitting the US. I saw Houston, a city, was drowning. I saw Puerto Rico washed [away]…the world doesn’t make sense anymore.
I wanted to write about that, not the politics and all, but that feeling— that paranoid feeling of being trapped in that [and] of wanting to escape. Sometimes I’m reading Twitter or I’m reading the news and I just want to escape, but I can’t. I sort of feel like the world has become a bubble of crap sometimes. And I don’t know how to get out of the bubble.
And I was like, how can I [write about] that? And I was like, I’m writing a super-escape artist, so let’s do that through him. I mean that’s what Mister Miracle is about. It’s about this moment in time when all of us are trapped, and there is something that kind of doesn’t compute. But we still have to live on, we still have to go on and deal with our lives.
Lu: Sure. So, we have this idea of Mister Miracle being the story of our time. Our time, as you just described, is constantly shifting and constantly changing. This ever-flowing river of shit, basically. Three issues downstream, has the series changed at all since the way you initially conceived it? And if so, how?
King: Ever-flowing river of shit. That’s right. That’s a good way to put it.
No, it hasn’t changed. I mean…the crazy is constant, even though the crazy is always changing. Although every day is something you wouldn’t have believed it was before, you know that tomorrow is going to be unbelievable. The one thing I can predict is that tomorrow I am going to be pissed off about something that I’ve never even seen before. So that part hasn’t changed at all.
No, I wrote Mister Miracle, the first six [issues], before we even got to number one. So it hasn’t changed at all. It’s one complete story, and one complete vision from the first one to the last.
Lu: Was the word “Vision” intentional? Didn’t you write a book or something with that title?
King: Always. Everything I do is intentional. God dammit.
Lu: Six issues. You’re pretty far ahead, then.
King: Well, I write Batman. And I love it. I love writing Batman and that book is [bi-weekly]. But I have a rule that I can only write three Batman issues in a row before I go a little insane because I get too far into his head and I’m sort of…it becomes cramped inside there with a guy who has that unique psychology. [Switching to writing] Mister Miracle feels like a relief to me.
Not the least because I’m working with Mitch Gerads, he’s my favorite artist in comics. And I think he’s the best artist in comics. So, it’s just such a joy. Even though it’s a book about pain, it’s a joy to work on. I think that comes across too in the pages [of the story].
Lu: I’m going to be totally honest with you. When I first heard that Mitch was going to be on Mister Miracle, I wasn’t totally sure how it was going to work because in Sheriff of Babylon, Mitch showcases this very gritty style. Lots and lots of earth tones. And Mister Miracle, as a concept, is just filled to the brim with reds, greens, and yellows that pop in the way primary colors do.
How did you feel when you saw those first pages that he turned in? And you had this sort of neon cornucopia?
King: I know Mitch pretty well, we’ve worked together for a year before that. I honestly didn’t know he had this gear. When he turned in the pages for issue two, where he’s doing this galactic war for four pages, and I was like…wow.
Mitch’s genius is that he’s a humanist. He takes the bizarre, and the incredible, and makes it makes it average. He makes it human. He makes you relate to these characters better than anybody else in comics. He puts you in the story and he makes you feel like what you are dealing with are human beings. Not myths or legends, but just men and women who are doing the best they can.
So, Mister Miracle. I mean, you can’t out-Kirby, Kirby. You can’t be crazier than Kirby. You can’t talk bigger than Kirby. So what Mitch does is that he goes in the other direction, he takes all that Kirby crazy and he internalizes it and makes it human, and therefore does the most Kirby thing possible, which is to do something new.
Lu: So you can’t out-Kirby, Kirby. With that in mind, what are your greatest hopes for the series?
King: Oh man, I’m an arrogant writer, what are doing asking me that? What are my greatest hopes? I don’t know. I want to change the fucking world! It’s what you hope with everything.
No, what are my greatest hopes is that my kid can read it and be proud of his dad. Honestly, that is what it is. That’s my greatest hope for the series. That someday my kid will pick it up and be like, “All right, my Dad tried to do something.”
Lu: Conversely, do you have any fears when it comes to working on this book?
King: Ah man, yeah. I’m a writer, I fear everything. I fear every issue. I think everything stinks. I did the Elmer Fudd/Batman issue and it turned into a big deal. I tore up my comps because I didn’t like it…because it had a typo in it. And I was like “this is just horrible, I’ll never see this again.” And it became a phenomenon. So yeah. I’m afraid of everything, you know?
But that’s good when you’re writing Mister Miracle…living in the state of anxiety.
Lu: Right. There is a sort of constant uncertainty within the series. I mean, I’m not convinced that Scott Free is even alive right now.
King: That’s right. There are many ways to read the story, so you could think that “oh maybe he’s doing a Jacob’s Ladder scenario, maybe he’s already dead.”
Or maybe the dark side equation is already effecting Scott. Maybe the anti-life equation is effecting you. Maybe it’s all just straight and the DC Universe is the one that’s fucked up. And that’s what’s fun about it. The answers are not just there. It seems obvious, and then it’s not obvious. Which is what the world is right now.
Lu: Some of my favorite moments in the series, so far, have been these quiet moments. In Issue Two you have that moment where Barda and Scott are trying to figure out how the shower works. Barda feels self-conscious about her body and Scott comforts her. It’s a wonderful moment. And then, in issue three–
King: You’ve read issue three?
Lu: I have read issue three.
King: Oh man. Was it okay? I don’t know anybody who has read it? Was it all right?
Lu: I liked it a lot.
King: Okay good.
Lu: Especially that ending. That cliffhanger. I was not ready for that at all!
King: Yeah, there are cliffhangers in this series. I’m not a big plot guy. It’s not my sort of style. But Mister Miracle has a ton of plot and each issue moves the story forward in amazing jumps. The status quo does not stick for even one issue, you know? I think of it like a season of Game of Thrones, where after every episode you’re like, “What just happened? What just happened?” Like that’s what I want for Mister Miracle.
Lu: Going with the idea of Mister Miracle as a story of our time, why is it so important for you to have these quiet intimate moments in the midst of all this chaos and all this war?
King: Well, I was in wars, right? Like I was there. And looking back at it, I don’t remember the loudness of it. I remember the quiet moments. I remember seeing my wife at the airport, waving good-bye to her. I remember driving in a car with a friend. I don’t know, it’s just where my memory goes, is the quiet moments. So to me, that’s what turns out to define the war, more than the big bang of it. I just sort of remember the small echoes.
Lu: Where can we expect Mister Miracle to go from here? What’s next?
King: I’m planning a big thing that I can’t talk about. But it’s ambitious. Mister Miracle is the most ambitious project that I’ve ever done, and in the next one, I’ll try to top it. What are you going to do besides that, right?
Lu: You always have to top yourself, huh?
King: You always have to top yourself. Yeah. So maybe Daffy Duck and Superman? I don’t know.
Lu: Wow, you heard it here first!
King: You heard it here first.
Mister Miracle #1-3 are out now.