Mister Miracle: The Great Escape is a bit of enigma. Like the titular character himself, the book is an incredible romp of humor and excitement with a genuine heart at the center.
It tackles the trials and tribulations of high school, crushes, and societal woes that are often placed on us when we are that young in a way that felt cinematic and more importantly, compassionate. However, as the book begins to wrap up its final magic trick of an ending, it was hard not to see behind the velvet curtain at what felt like rushed and familiar story beats.
This revelation is really the only major frustration I had with otherwise incredible story. Varian Johnson, the author of Playing the Cards You’re Dealt, and artist Daniel Isles, aka DirtyRobot, masterfully weave strong story that is has a fantastic depth of personality that rises above its contemporaries. The Great Escape stars Scott Free, before donning the moniker Mister Miracle, as a teenager trying to escape the planet Apokolips where he and his friends are subjugated to the wrath of Granny Goodness and the Furies.
During his most recent escape failure he is introduced to the newest Fury, and soon to be crush, Big Barda. What takes place over 201 pages is a story about trauma, love, identity and acceptance. Isles’s panels are drawn with a sense of space and world building that keeps the pacing of the story alive. Johnson’s sharp writing, particularly with Scott’s monologues often engaged me more in his plight of escaping and dealing with the weight of the expectations he had placed on him both by others and himself.
It was the depiction of weight that I truly found resonating with me the most from the book. Scott is often depicted as an easy-going, wise-cracking, smart guy in the comics while struggling immensely with his own trauma and this book carries this depiction beautifully. Whether it be the Nobles in his class, Granny Goodness, or the trauma he endured, Scott had a way to brush it off and keep it moving but through the subtly of Johnson’s writing and Isles art, that weight was always on him. The moment I realized this book was special was the moment where Scott falls and catches himself on a ladder. Himon, his mentor, rushes to bring him back up but Scott is too busy falling back into the trauma of being put in the X-pit. A literal pit that he was thrown in by Granny Goodness and left to rot, but Scott was able to become the only person to ever escape it. The weight comes from the fact that, emotionally, he never left it.
Now of course, this book has some very subtle and unsubtle moments of discussing race and class struggles. The very deliberate change of making Scott black instead of white brings those discussions directly to our eyes. His struggle of understanding his lineage with no one giving him any information reminded me much of my own youth and struggles to understand where my family comes from. The feeling of having to put on a brave face every day in a society that is both hostile and ambivalent to your existence is a weight that is so hard to carry, especially when you have the struggles everyone else has about their place in the world and The Great Escape does an amazing job capturing those feelings and presenting them in an empathic way to the reader in order to understand them, even if they’ve never felt that directly. It’s unfortunate that the ending felt so quick that it left me feeling wanting the book to spend more time sitting in those thoughts.
Instead, I have to be the one sitting with these thoughts as I finish this review and with time I’m sure it will wash over me. I loved the book’s magic overall. It has a strong sense of purpose and care that I think everyone should take the opportunity to read. In a world that is quite often hard to swallow, Johnson and Isles made a great book to escape to.