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By Thomas Wheeler

You know, while I was never all that into the "New Gods" characters created for DC Comics by the legendary Jack Kirby, I respected them on those occasions when they turned up in other DC titles, and I really feel that a severe disservice was done to them as a result of the events of "Death of the New Gods" and "Final Crisis".

I think there's a certain irony in the fact that right around the same time DC decides to do them in, they're more prevalent in the toy world than ever. DC Direct has produced a series of New Gods action figures based specifically on Jack Kirby's designs (and taking his art style and rendering it in a three-dimensional action figure can't have been easy!). The Justice League Unlimited line from Mattel turned out a special "Attack from Apokolips" set that featured Superman, Darkseid, and other characters from the New Gods concept, many of them for the first time ever in the JLU line.

And they've been turning up in the generally superb DC Universe Classics line, as well. Series 1 featured Orion. A second version of Orion, with a removable helmet, has been offered in a boxed two-pack with Lightray as a Toys "R" Us exclusive. Unfortunately, as a result of one of the most egregious examples of poor quality control yet to be seen in the line, out of three Lightrays I checked, the right leg was either stuck and/or broken on every one of them, right at the hip. If there's such a thing as a non-defective DCUC Lightray out there, I'd love to know about it.

Mister Miracle turned up in series 6 of the DC Universe Classics line. He is not the first Mister Miracle action figure. That honor would go to an entry in Kenner's Super Powers line in the 1980's, which brought in quite a few of the "New Gods" characters along the way. There has also been a Mister Miracle Justice League Unlimited figure that has been released a couple of times. However, I am pleased to see the character added to the DC Universe Classics line.

Here's some information about the character's background:

Mister Miracle was one of four series in Kirby's ambitious but short- lived Fourth World saga. The character was inspired by the early illusionist career of comic book artist Jim Steranko, while the character's relationship with Big Barda is based on Kirby's relationship with his own wife.

Thaddeus Brown was a circus escape artist whose stage name was Mister Miracle. As the first escape artist to use the name Mister Miracle, Brown mentored both Scott Free and Shilo Norman. After Brown's murder, Scott Free took up the Mister Miracle name, adopted Thaddeus' young ward Shilo Norman, and hired his assistant Oberon.

Scott Free is the son of Izaya (Highfather), the ruler of New Genesis, and his wife Avia. However, as part of a diplomatic move to stop a destructive war against the planet Apokolips, Highfather agreed to an exchange of heirs with the galactic tyrant Darkseid; the exchange of heirs guaranteed that neither side would attack the other. Scott traded places with Darkseid's second born son Orion.

Scott grew up in one of Granny Goodness' "Terror Orphanages" with no knowledge of his own heritage. As he matured, Scott rebelled against the totalitarian ideology of Apokolips. Hating himself for being unable to fit in, he was influenced by Metron to see a future beyond Darkseid. Scott became part of a small band of pupils who were tutored in secret by the rebel Himon, a New Genesian living as a "Hunger Dog" on Apokolips. It was at these meetings that he met fellow pupil Big Barda, who would later become his wife.

Eventually, Scott Free escaped and fled to Earth. His escape, long anticipated and planned for by Darkseid, nullified the pact between Darkseid and Highfather and gave Darkseid the excuse he needed to revive the war with New Genesis.

Once on Earth, he became the protégé of a circus escape artist, Thaddeus Brown, whose stage name was Mister Miracle. Brown was impressed with Scott's skills (especially as supplemented with various advanced devices he had taken from his previous home). Scott also befriended Brown's assistant, a dwarf named Oberon.

When Thaddeus Brown was murdered, Scott Free assumed the identity of Mister Miracle. Barda later followed Scott to Earth, and the two used their powers, equipment, and skills in the war against Darkseid, who was still interested in recapturing both of them. Eventually, tired of being chased on Earth by Darkseid's servants, Scott returned to Apokolips and won his freedom by legal means, through trial by combat.

Scott Free later became a member of the Keith Giffen-era JLA (as did Barda and Oberon), which recast him and Big Barda as semi-retired super- heroes that sought to live quiet lives in the suburbs when they were not involved in Justice League-related adventures. In particular, Scott Free was recast as a hen-pecked husband, who often found himself on the receiving end of his wife's temper, over her desire to live a quiet life on Earth.

Ultimately Mr. Miracle was killed off in the Death of the New Gods mini-series by Jim Starlin. During the storyline (which began with the death of Big Barda), it was revealed that Scott could harness the power of the Anti-Life Equation, which he ultimately manifested in his attempt to avenge his wife. However, when he discovered that the cosmic "Source" that is worshiped by the New Gods was responsible for the extermination of all of the New Gods, Mr. Miracle lost his will to live and allowed the Source to kill him and reclaim the Anti-Life Equation power from him.

That whole thing still annoys me. It's worth mentioning that Barda, along with Orion, were later members of the Justice League concept that followed the Giffen-era series, which was played for laughs as much as anything else. The subsequent JLA series was more serious, and Barda and Orion came across accordingly (not that Orion's a bundle of laughs on his best day regardless).

Mister Miracle's publishing history comic-book-wise has been sporadic at best: The original title featuring this character was the longest-lasting of the short-lived Fourth World tetralogy, lasting 18 issues while the other titles (New Gods and The Forever People) were cancelled after only 11 issues. The most traditionally super-heroesque comic of the various Fourth World titles, the last seven issues (as well as later incarnations of the series) would downplay the Fourth World mythology that drove the other titles in favor of more traditional super-hero fare. The title was briefly revived in the late 1970s for an additional seven issues written by Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber, before abruptly ending with #25 with several storylines unresolved.

When the character was revived as part of Keith Giffen's Justice League line-up in 1987, a one-shot special was published with art by Steve Rude in 1988.

This special was followed by an ongoing series which began in 1989, written by then-current Justice League scripter J.M. DeMatteis, and drawn by British artist Ian Gibson. Other co-writers/writers who contributed to the title include Keith Giffen, Len Wein, and Doug Moench.

This run lasted 28 issues before cancellation in 1991. The series was largely humor-driven, per Keith Giffen's reimagining Scott Free, his wife Big Barda, and their friend Oberon (who pretended to be Scott's uncle) as living in suburbia when they were not fighting evil with the Justice League.

In 1996, a series written by Kevin Dooley showed Scott attempting to escape his destiny as a New God by setting up a charitable foundation in New York. This only ran for seven issues, before all Fourth World titles were canceled for the launch of Jack Kirby's Fourth World.

With the launching of Grant Morrison's meta-series "Seven Soldiers of Victory", Mr. Miracle was revived as a four-issue mini-series. However, this mini-series focused instead on Scott's sidekick and apprentice Shiloh Norman, who Morrison has established as the new Mr. Miracle.

Young Shilo Norman was the informal ward of escapologist Thaddeus Brown (Mister Miracle I), and he also served as an occasional stand-in. When Brown was murdered by a mobster named Steel Hand, Scott avenged his new friend's death by taking on the identity of Mister Miracle and brought Steel Hand to justice. After Brown's death, Shilo worked with Scott Free (the new Mister Miracle) and Scott's wife Barda. A master escape artist himself, the now-adult Shilo was appointed security chief of the Slabside Island Maximum Security prison for Metahumans also known as the Slab. He held his own during the Joker's "Last Laugh" riot and was promoted to Warden of the Slab, which had by then been relocated to Antarctica.

A somewhat reconceived Shilo Norman appears in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers crossover. In Final Crisis #2, Shilo approaches Sonny Sumo and tells him "There was a cosmic war and the powers of evil won", prompting him to form a team to fight the evil gods.

However, the Mister Miracle in question as far as the action figure is concerned is intended to be Scott Free, certainly the best known individual bearing the name. His powers and abilities are listed as follows: Immortality; Superhuman Strength; Agility, Stamina, Coordination, Immunity and Reflexes. As the "god of escaping" he is the master of Escapology bar none, aided by magic-level technology; Expert martial artist; New God inventive. Knowledge of the Anti-life Equation (and possesses the will power not to use it). He possesses the Alpha Effect.

Impressive repertoire. So -- how's the figure?

I've detailed here and elsewhere the quality control issues that Mattel has been having with this line -- and my firm belief that it deserves better. I've been seeing some signs of improvement, and I am pleased to say that Mister Miracle is relatively problem-free. The worst thing I can say about the assembly of the figure is that some of his articulation points are a little loose. But they are not intolerably so, and I will certainly take that over parts that are inadvertently glued into place so that attempting to move them causes the park to break off!

Mister Miracle has a colorful and fairly complex costume -- as one might expect from a Kirby creation. He is wearing a mask that adheres to the contours of his face. This hood and mask is mostly red with a yellow face and red detailing around the eyes. His nose and mouth are clearly apparent through the mask. This has been very nicely designed on the figure.

Mister Miracle's costume is mostly red, with a healthy dose of yellow and dark green. The chest and upper sleeves are red, the lower sleeves and torso are yellow, the legs are red, and the gloves, trunks, and boots are dark green. Mister Miracle wears a fancy belt and has some unusual detailing around the tops of his gloves and boots which requires Mattel to create distinctive molds for the lower arms and lower legs, apart from the standard "male hero" set of body molds that they use on many of their figures.

Fortunately, all of these special parts are, I am convinced, based off of the standard mold sets, so they all work together very nicely, when assembled properly, which thankfully seems to be becoming more and more of a trend.

Mister Miracle is also wearing a cape, and it is here that I must register a second mild complaint regarding the figure. Although the cape is not particularly thick, fortunately, and it doesn't misbalance the figure, the cape is extremely rigid. This apparently is an issue that Mattel is trying to address. Mister Miracle's cape is a pretty extreme example here. It LOOKS good. There's nothing wrong with the design of it. But it's so stiff that it really infringes on the figure's ability to move his arms or legs backward to any measurable degree.

The cape also has an extremely high collar. This isn't anything more than a reflection of the character's design, and doesn't have any impact on the figure's function, but it does sort of leave one wondering how this guy manages to have any peripheral vision.

The paintwork is, for the most part, extremely well done, especially on a fairly complex figure. The only glitches that I've really noticed on any of the specimens I've seen in the stores have been slightly misplaced eye lining -- but I've certainly seen worse -- and a slight sloppiness around the cape clasps, which is almost understandable since painted a lighter color like yellow over a darker color like the dark green of the cape is no easy trick. The cape clasps appear to be hand- painted, though, a practice I do not agree with when it comes to mass- produced toys.

Mister Miracle is sometimes portrayed as having visible eyes, and sometimes with black white eyes. In fact, the JLU edition of Mister Miracle has visible eyes. The DCUC version has chosen to go with blank eyes, and I think this was a wise decision. There's already a fair number of paint applications on the head, and I, for one, would be a little concerned about the alignment of further paint stencils and the aim of the painters. I've seen a number of weird-eyed JLU Mister Miracles as it is.

A few of the Mister Miracles I've seen have slight mold creases on their faces. Although I've certainly seen far worse examples in other lines from other companies, this is an avoidable problem (read: liquefy your plastic more before injecting it into the molds) and should be dealt with. I realize we're just talking toys here, and I don't want to rag on Mister Miracle too much, since I am very pleased with the figure, but these are issues that on the whole need to be addressed. So I'm addressing them.

But on the whole, this Mister Miracle figure is really extremely impressive, and a good example of what Mattel is capable of when they start paying attention to figure production in this line.

Mister Miracle comes with a couple of accessories. One is a set of high-tech-looking Kirbyish handcuffs. These are bound to one of his wrists in package, but are fairly easily removable. The other accessories are a couple of discs which fit to the bottoms of his feet. As memory serves, these have some sort of anti-gravity capability and allow Mister Miracle a fair measure of flight. What was interesting was that when I removed these, the bottoms of Mister Miracles boots are not dark green like the rest of his boots, but yellow, with some fairly intricate detailing sculpted into them.

Although I was aware of the fact that the soles of the feet were a separately molded piece on most DCUC action figures -- which strikes me as a little odd, but since the overall structure design of these figures is so impressive I'm not going to question it -- even so, the bottoms of the feet aren't a place one would tend to look for additional distinctive detail. Shows the level of attention that someone is willing to give these figures, which gives me a fair measure of hope for the line's future.

Mister Miracle, of course, has a considerable range of articulation. Mattel, and its hired sculptors, the Four Horsemen, have created what I believe may be the ultimate modern super-hero body form. When properly assembled, it looks fantastic, and it moves well. Mister Miracle is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, leg swivel near the knee, knees, and ankles.

There's a semi-variant figure of Mister Miracle in the same series, technically a different character entirely, called Doctor Impossible. His uniform pattern is similar to Mister Miracle's, but colored entirely differently. A far more recent character, he came along at the start of the most recent Justice League of America series.

Little or nothing is yet known about this enigmatic figure. Visually, he looks like a dark doppleganger of Mr. Miracle of the New Gods. While Mr. Miracle is aided by his benevolent Mother Box and uses Boom Tubes to travel from place to place, Dr. Impossible uses a Father Box and "Hush Tubes." Dr. Impossible claims to be the brother of Mr. Miracle from Apokolips.

It didn't even specify whether the character was killed off in the Death of the New Gods or the Final Crisis.

So, what's my final word here? Seriously, this is a cool figure. I wouldn't mind slightly tighter articulation, and the cape's stiffness is a problem (there's also a fingerprint of glue on the cape which I haven't figured out how to safely remove), but given some of the considerable issues raised in earlier assortments of this figure line, and given this line's tremendous potential for the future, Mister Miracle, along with being a cool character in his own right, shows me a lot of signs that Mattel is dealing with some of the quality control issues and getting things on track, where I sincerely hope they'll stay.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS MISTER MIRACLE most definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!