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Tom Mason On Hating Mister Miracle #19

“… I hate this comic with all my heart.

And it has nothing to do with the creative. It’s all business. Mister Miracle was one of the titles created by Jack Kirby when DC triumphantly gloated over his arrival from Marvel. I remember the big ad campaigns; for months DC touted “Kirby Is Coming!” followed by “Kirby Is Here!” It was a big deal and DC made the most of it, splashing Kirby’s name in bold letters wherever and whenever possible.

Now with the revival, less than 36 months after the last Kirby issue, there’s no mention of Jack anywhere at all. None.

That’s right, but it’s also so very wrong. Nowhere in this issue at all does anyone bother to credit or mention Jack Kirby.”

Read all of Tom’s comments over at Comix 411.

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Posted on October 5, 2012, in Quotes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I loved this comic. I had bought the last few issues of the Kirby Mister Miracle and enjoyed them. But this comic made me realize that comics could be more than just fun action stories. What other people claim happened with Starlin’s, or McGregor’s or Moench’s work at Marvel happened for me with a DC book. And at a time when most DC books that I read were written by journeymen like Bob Rozakis or Marty Pasko. It may not have had Kirby’s name on it, but no DC book did back then except for the ones that had to be due to contracts or other legal agreements. I’d have to go back and look, but I don’t remember Marvel’s books touting “created by” claims back then either.

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    • Hey, Jim! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Tom may pop around to defend his own comments but on his behalf I will note that omitting Kirby’s from the Mister Miracle re-launch is especially egregious given the very personal nature of the New Gods property, which as Tom notes was widely promoted as Kirby’s masterwork when it debuted at DC several years earlier. To re-launch that series without Kirby and without any mention of his name seems especially callous, or at least tone-deaf — it would be like abruptly starting to air new episodes of the original version of Star Trek and failing to mention Gene Roddenberry.

      In a strange bit of synchronicity I unearthed this very book from my Accumulation a couple weeks ago — I have since sold it on, but I did enjoy going through it again, and I remember it being a distinct creation at the time (though I was more engaged by the Rogers/Englehart Detective run from around the same time). I can see how it would be an epiphany book for you. I had a similar experience with a Starlin book — for me it was Captain Marvel #34, a lesser issue wrapping up Starlin’s run, which was so fresh to me at the time that it changed the way I looked at comics.

      Mister Miracle himself is a conundrum. I continue to love the character but I can’t really say why, or mount an adequate defense when someone attacks the goofy core of Scott Free. A cosmic god who is also an escape artist? Really? But there is still something there. As much as I revere Kirby I think the definitive Mister Miracle story has still yet to be written. No one has really gotten at the core of why this entity of potentially limitless power voluntarily elects to bind himself in chains and cheat death to escape again and again. There’s some kind of weird power exchange or arbitrary setting of limits going on here that should provide rich psychological fodder for storytelling. Likewise, Scott’s extreme “bad Dad” issues resulting from his unique childhood is a deep storytelling vein.

      As much as I like the villains and characters and crazy gear of the New Gods stories I think Mister Miracle might be better served in a Vertigo book getting to the core of the character, and pushing a lot of the other stuff into the background.

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      • those are great points about Scott Free. I always felt more of a connection to his side of “The Pact” than Orion’s – probably because Scott’s father was the “good” father giving his son over to the *ahem* “dark side” willingly. It plays on the whole Abraham and Isaac archetype, except the deity does not stop the Abraham character from making the sacrifice in this version.

        I guess my main point is that it’s easy today, 40 years later, to condemn DC for not giving creator credits, but in the context of the times, it really wasn’t done. Add to that the fact that Kirby was back at Marvel, so you’d be promoting a creator at your main competitor. I don’t remember Marvel doing a lot of Kirby promotion while he was at DC. In fact, that’s when i remember the whole “Stan Lee presents” stuff getting louder and more dominant – Ditko had already abandoned them, and now Kirby, but Stan stuck around.

        now, if DC were to reprint this run today (please, please, please, please) and not give any sort of acknowledgement to Kirby, I’d be complaining as loudly as anyone. But it was a different time.

        we may have to agree to admire the Englehart/Rodgers run as comics, but disagree on how disrespectful the credits issue was for the time.

        I haven’t looked at the “Return of the New Gods” issues in years – I wonder how they handled the Kirby credit. (and remember the first issue of this revival was actually the last issue of First Issue Special – only in comics would that sentence happen).

        I’ve always felt that the revival of both “Mister Miracle” and “The New Gods” so quickly after Jeannette Kahn came in to replace Infantino indicates that there were better sales on those books than DC wanted to admit at the time. You might revive a mediocre seller after ten years or so to see if the mood has changed, but only 3 years? I would love to see both DC and Marvel’s actual audited sales figures from those years to see what was actually selling versus what the editorial spin told us at the time. Mark Evanier has indicated that there’s pretty strong proof that the Marvel Hanna-Barbera books sold pretty darn well, but the editorial staff didn’t like Marvel selling kids’ books (or licensed properties) and would claim that the sales were horrible. “Brother Power, the Geek” was cancelled well before any sales data could have come in because at least one powerful editor was personally offended by the book (or so I’ve read in interviews). So there’s strong anecdotal evidence that what survived and what got cancelled was not necessarily based on just sales.

        but I digress…

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  2. Thanks for the link, Paul. Much appreciated. I, too, love Mister Miracle and I’m not sure why. Aside from Kamandi, it’s my favorite of the Kirby/DC stuff. I’d love to see someone come in with a really emotional-to-the-core take on the character to explain why he does what he does and what makes a “super-hero as escape artist” concept seem viable. The traps that Kirby put him in had the power of Kirby’s art to propel them, but I never bought into the idea that he was in any danger – I’d already seen Batman escape from the keys of a giant typewriter, so even as a kid, I knew MM wasn’t going to get hurt. [To prove my nerd cred: around the time this issue came out, I met Marshall Rogers at a NY convention where he did a nice sketch of MM for me for $10.]

    Jim: I understand that the credits thing is the way the business used to be, but to me it doesn’t excuse it. Neither does saying that Marvel didn’t credit anyone either. It’s accurate, but it’s still a crappy business practice and you can still see vestiges of it today as Marvel and DC’s characters become billion-dollar entertainment properties with little if any acknowledgement to the creators.

    DC made a big deal about crediting Kirby when they first signed him, putting his name everywhere. What it looks like is that because he was back at Marvel when DC revived the title, they just scrubbed the record of his name to be corporate dicks. It’s one thing to find that MM #19 as a back issue (that can’t be changed), but if you check the DC wikia, that four-decade old behavior is still in evidence – no mention of Jack. Depending on where your browser takes you, you could have no idea that Jack created Mister Miracle.

    And I do understand the petty vindictiveness between Marvel and DC. I understand DC’s unwillingness to promote Jack’s name at a time when he’s back at Marvel. However, a little extra line in the credits for the issue, or a mention of Jack on the letters page isn’t promotion, it’s acknowledgement.

    Also, since you mentioned it, Ditko and Kirby were freelancers; they could come and go as they pleased (or as contracts allowed) or the work could just dry up without warning. Stan wrote and edited, but he was always management, a different and more secure position, and he always negotiated his employment contract from a higher position of authority. “Stan Lee Presents,” for example, was contractually obligated to appear in every issue – I have a Marvel editorial handbook (1990s edition) around here somewhere that clearly states an editor would get written up with a notice in his personnel file if that didn’t appear in one of his books.

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    • I figured that you understood those things far better than myself, Tom, what with having actually worked in the industry. I have to admit that I’ve not ever looked at the DC Wikia – is it run by DC corporate or is it fan-based?

      And the total lack of appreciation didn’t last too much longer. If I recall correctly, the royalties that Jack got from DC for the New Gods figures that were part of the Super Powers line were the first such royalties he ever received for any ancillary product. The toys didn’t have a creator credit on them, but he did get the royalties. Payment is also a form of acknowledgement, and based on what I’ve read of Jack and his feelings about supporting his family, probably greatly appreciated over a byline or created by tag on the product.

      it was crappy behavior – it’s part of comics’ long, long history of treating the help as trained monkeys who can be replaced at any time. But things have improved. As a historian, I tend to get a little knee-jerk about historical context in terms of evaluating behavior.

      and you are absolutely correct on Stan. Heck, in the horrible Atlas implosion of the 50’s, when they had to fire all their regular artists and writers, even when Atlas was looking at only publishing reprints if they couldn’t afford new work, Stan kept HIS job. That’s the lesson that Marvel and DC learned from the Ditko and Kirby defections – promote what you DO own, not what someone can take with them, like their name and artistic ability. Marvel owned Stan, pure and simple.

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      • This is where I jump in and encourage both of you to read Sean Howe’s new book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, as it is full of all sorts of juicy details about Stan, and Jack, and credit, and how slipshod the whole operation really was at Marvel and DC.

        I’m no historian but it would be interesting to learn just WHY those Kirby New Gods books were revived when they were. Considering their recent cancellation and Kirby’s return to Marvel, might it have been a pre-emptive move on DC’s part to re-assert copyright to those characters? Or maybe they were just trying to take some steam out of Kirby’s much-hyped Eternals that was happening at Marvel (and also to place guardrails on what Kirby could do in Eternals, in case he was planning to re-spray New Gods over there?)

        Dunno, just speculating. It seems to me those New Gods revivals were too short-lived to generate much in the way of accurate sales data (the newsstand system took months to offer an accurate picture of sales, part of why cancellations were so abrupt — when you finally saw the numbers, you’d move quick to stop the bleeding). Englehart might remember the circumstances, were someone to track him down.

        Or it might have been down to one of those sudden changes in editorial direction, or vindictiveness, or as simple as creators quitting a book and no appropriate replacements being at hand … it was all so seat-of-the-pants back then, it is treacherous to ascribe motivation to a lot of this stuff.

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        • I believe you’re correct in suggesting it was merely a sales ploy to siphon some attention away from Kirby’s return to Marvel…combined with certain writers’ belief that Kirby couldn’t write and this was their chance to “do the New Gods right.” (I have extremely strong views on that topic but I don’t care to have that argument anymore, not even with Steve Englehart. Done it too many times, it never changes anyone’s mind.)

          Return of the New Gods and MM had nothing to do with asserting copyright claim over the Fourth World characters –in DC’s view their ownership has never been in doubt, even for a second — just as it had nothing to do with trying to prevent Kirby from reworking unused New Gods ideas in The Eternals, because DC simply didn’t think in those terms.

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          • Makes sense. There is a use-it-or-lose-it component to copyright law — which is half the reason you see obscure characters pop up as guest stars or in mini-series once every decade or so — but that was likely not an issue in this case in view of the recent publication of the original run of New Gods.

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  3. @Jim: There are lots of Google links to grab onto, but it appears that once Sol Harrison was out at DC and Paul Levitz was in a position of more authority, he started making sure that creators got credit for the creations and had creators sign documents asserting their creation of new characters going-forward. Len Wein, for example, is on record saying that one of the civilian characters he created for the Batman comics and has appeared in the movies and cartoons, has gotten him more money from DC than he’s gotten from Marvel for creating Wolverine – and he acknowledges that it was Paul who insisted he sign the character interest agreement just in case something should happen with the character. (Chuck Dixon gets payouts whenever Bane is used as well). I also think it was Paul who instituted the policy of adding writer & artist credits (when known) to DC’s reprints.

    @Rabensam: That makes a lot of sense, given the way everyone thought at the time. And it’s funny that DC revived Kirby’s DC characters as a plan to impact Kirby’s Marvel sales, without also acknowledging Kirby as the creator of those DC titles. Thanks for weighing in. I may be misremembering, but I seem to recall at least one interview from that time where one of the writers claimed to be doing Kirby’s creations “right.”

    @Paul: Oh, I want that book alright. I read a couple of chapters at Grantland and they’re fascinating (all about the 1970s Marvel and the arrival of the new writers under Roy’s editorship). Great stuff and a fairly harsh indictment of Stan Lee who by then just wanted to get paid, live in California and act the role of the Stan Lee character he created. A friend of mine used to joke that the greatest thing Gene Roddenberry ever created was the mythical version of Gene Roddenberry and that may be the lasting legacy of Stan as well.

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    • Love that book, Tom, I’d lend you my review copy but the Ulm took it …

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      • the Sean Howe book has been mentioned on this site before, and I’m still eagerly awaiting the copy i ordered from Discount Comic Book Service. My mistake – I should have pre-ordered it on Amazon (I’d have it read already) but I went for the few dollars’ savings instead…

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        • Yes, I’ve been pretty forward in my praise for Mr. Howe’s book, and it only gets worse next week in my full review. Go ahead and get an overnight copy from Amazon, then give that Discount Comics copy to a friend at holiday time …

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