4 out of 5
Having just reviewed Gerber’s sole Metal Men issue and commented on how Steve’s 70s / 80s DC output was very different from his Marvel stuff, my feeling on this is even further crystallized by his short “fill-in” run on Mister Miracle, taking over from Steve Englehart. It’s surely very Gerber-y, but it’s also wholly unlike any of his Marvel runs / issues of the time. Given the wild, general premise and 4th World history of Mister Miracle, one would think this would be a shoe-in for Gerb to go all random and weird, but excepting a somewhat heady opening issue that may’ve been necessitated by Englehart leaving the character in a lurch, Steve steers back toward something relatively grounded seeming, albeit with – again – plenty of themes common to the writer tucked in. It would seem that the ‘Marvel = mutants; DC = gods’ paradigm, and perhaps the Stan Lee influence at the former, encouraged Steve to write in a more flourished, exclamatory style for Manny and Howard, and then pen things with a more philosophical tone at DC, countering the over-sized characters and contents. It’s fascinating.
And these issues: damn, did we perhaps miss out on a run that could’ve been epic. Tempering Steve’s more outlandish indulgences, and then pairing him with the messianic MM (as this was the direction Englehart took the character in) was an amazing balance: the writer spends his first issue in some type of mindscape lorded over by the mysterious “Ethos,” who seeks to, potentially, impart some lessons upon Scott regarding his desires to beat ol’ Darkseid and liberate the Apokolips folk. This kind of psychedelic stuff is the norm for Steve, but MM isn’t a typical Gerber hero: he’s rather self aware, and keen on the things Ethos is trying to tell him through various mirages involving all the New Gods crew; that is, we’re not treated to an omniscient narrator talking to the reader, rather a pretty on-point back-and-forth between Free and Ethos. And then MM lands on his own realization here – he has to lead the people to save themselves! – and he’s “zapped” back to reality for the next couple issues. Would we have seen Ethos again? Who knows. I can’t find other references to him, so we’ll leave it to some writer to dig him up for a random appearance at a later stage.
The next two issues involve Scott back on Earth with Oberon and Barda, mining his realization to craft a big ol’ publicized escape that will inspire the populace to do their own self-saving. This is threatening to Darkseid, and so he sends Granny out to enact a plan involving a girl who is constantly in pain but can’t express it…
Yeah, on the surface, we’re getting our Steve bits and pieces here, but it’s all tamped down and delivered stoically; maturely. Michael Golden is a wizard on the art side, balancing hefty dialogue with wonderfully expressive characterizations and smart use of splash pages to get the most out of what is mostly conversation – it ends up being a beautiful, and exciting book, even though, beyond that first issue, not much necessarily happens.
…Because presumably this was building to something, but we never get to find out what, and there’s not enough context in the story to really even guess. Which makes for an odd comparison, perhaps: the weighty, mature tone and the abrupt non-conclusion bring Void Indigo to mind, but we don’t have the un-published scripts to even suggest what was going on here. At the same time, I don’t mean to imply that these three issues are unstructured: quite the opposite. They flow together wonderfully, but they flow to a brick ‘to be continued’ wall that we’ll never be able to get past.
The letters page mentions Steve as a fill-in writer, hence my use of that above, and says Len Wein would’ve taken over for him, but it’s unclear how many more issues Gerber would’ve had to flesh this thing out. It’s hard to give the story a perfect rating without that sense of closure, unfortunately, and the same thing is what ends up making the first issue feel a little different than the others, even though it’s certainly thematically linked. We can assume Ethos would’ve returned, but otherwise it’s kinda like we just had one random issue of mind-tripping, and then Scott is zapped to Earth.
I know Steve’s Superman stuff at DC is generally more celebrated, but Mister Miracle is the “run” I tend to return to more often, because it’s just so stuffed with promise. (And it has that beautiful Golden artwork.) I wasted a super brief email correspondence with Gerber back in the day to ask him about ‘what happened with Howard the Duck?’, which understandably prompted the end of our correspondence – I wasn’t a very good internet sleuth at that time – but if I’d been more read, my question would’ve absolutely been on MM: what would’ve happened on this title, Steve? It’s worth rereading to come up with different guesses.