“Is he a master of spectacular trickery — or is he something more? — You will have to decide when you confront the strangest, most incredible hero to ever appear in comics! You will see what he does — you will wonder how he does it! But always waiting in the wings — are his two greatest enemies — the men who challenge him — and death himself! Meet Mister Miracle!”
When pioneering comics writer and artist Jack Kirby - co-creator of Captain America, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men amongst others - introduced Scott Free’s alias, Mister Miracle, in its eponymous DC Comics title in 1971, Isaiah Rashad was still twenty years from being born.
But by the time we meet our superhero rapper on his latest adventure, The House Is Burning, he’s grappled with many of the same traps that once made Mister Miracle the strangest, most incredible hero to ever appear in comics. During a five year hiatus between albums, the Chattanooga, Tennessee artist has swallowed “the paranoid pill,” triumphed at “the battle of the id,” and been infected by “the anti-life equation” itself.
Scott Free has played a key role in Rashad’s recovery. While checked into Southern California’s Dana Point Rehab Campus, he revisited one of his favorite comic books, writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads’ Eisner Award-winning revival of Mister Miracle (published between 2017 and 2018), identifying a parallel to his own life and his personal struggles with depression and addiction. The House Is Burning opener "Darkseid" borrows Mister Miracle’s interpretation of the DC supervillain (and Scott’s adopted father) to articulate what he’d been going through - in Rashad’s words, “a doom you can’t escape.”
“What I wanted to do is capture the emotion of the period, and the anxiety, the way Alan Moore captured the anxiety of the ‘80s or Kirby captured the anxiety of the ‘70s,” Tom King told Paste in a 2017 interview. Introducing that contemporary relatability to the legacy of those that have preceded them is something that King, Gerads and Rashad all have in common. King’s writing in Mister Miracle samples directly from Kirby’s initial 18 issue run that ended in 1974. On The House Is Burning, Three 6 Mafia is Rashad’s Jack Kirby; Memphis soul is his multiverse.
A few days before the release of his long-anticipated second album, Isaiah joined personal heroes Tom King and Mitch Gerads on Zoom to discuss the impact that Mister Miracle has had on his life.
Making Work Personal
Isaiah Rashad: First of all I wanna say, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get through the past couple of years of my life if I hadn’t stumbled upon y’all shit. I don’t know what y’all personally been through, you’ve probably heard it over and over again, but Mister Miracle is one of the craziest shits. I don’t know what the fuck it was supposed to be, but it felt like a reflection of my own life. I was so tripped out by how y’all turned his background into some real relatable shit. Especially a character that’s been around for so long.
What kind of guidance would you give somebody that wanted to emulate what y’all did [with Mister Miracle]?
Tom King: I’ve done good work and I’ve done bad work, and the good work always comes from a personal place, it comes from you connecting with yourself, and knowing yourself and being able to tap in that. When you’re just trying to be somebody else you’re not going to get there. The great work comes from looking at you and your life, and the mistakes and the triumphs you’ve had.
Mitch Gerads: I think that’s what brought Tom and I together in a lot of ways: it’s because we both realize that - I’m sure it’s the same with music - if you’re just trying to make a hit, it becomes hollow. And Tom and I are trying to make books that make us proud. We want to tell stories that have come from something that we’ve endured, or that is important to us, so it doesn’t come through as just posturing.
Rashad: I just gotta say it. I don’t get how y’all put yourselves into a character that was created  years ago, but I’m stupid impressed. Is there a story you’re looking to do, that’s totally about your life, that would be completely original? Or is it satisfying enough to be able to subtly change somebody’s perception of somebody like Batman or somebody like Mister Miracle, by throwing your own personal life into it?
King: We work in completely different art forms, but we have stuff in common. In your art form, you’re sampling constantly, you’re looking at what everyone’s done - it’s almost like poets that are talking to each other. And then you’re building upon all that. You’re saying, “I’m gonna put my twist on it, put my life and my experience with that.” With Mister Miracle, we started with Jack Kirby - this 1940s, World War II, child of immigrants guy - and I looked at him and what he had created, and I wanted to have a conversation with him almost. So it’s not me or him, we’re talking to each other through this work. And I can sort of bring out what he was trying to bring out, by also bringing myself into it.
Gerads: Scott [Free] is such a universally relatable character. We all have our pasts and our problems and our futures, to varying degrees, but it’s all a shared experience. Scott could get very personal for me. When Jacob is born halfway through the book was exactly when my son was born, so in fact I just used my son as the visual key for Jacob - just drawing my son with black hair. Everything I was drawing in the book was happening exactly a month after it was happening in my life, so I had all this stuff to draw. I was taking reference shots in the hospital.
Rashad: It’s so sitcom-like, but serious. It’s super serious. It’s hard to make something that serious entertaining to me. I’m in rehab, looking at this like, “Man, family sucks, but you stuck with them like a motherfucker!” I think that’s the craziest thing that I took from everything that y’all wrote. Y’all really wrote a great story about family that anybody can relate to. Especially people who been through some shitty stuff. And made people feel like it’s a part of the journey. Who would Scott Free be without Granny Goodness, for real?
Rashad: With Southern music, because of its simplicity and the way that it’s presented, a lot of the material and inspiration behind it is mistook for being dumb. Because there’s a difference between the two. I feel like I’m continuing a legacy of making the type of music that I grew up on, and the shit that really changed me, more interpretable to other people, easier to digest. And we got them realizing that they’re really jamming to some really old, old shit. It’s old enough that if you missed it, it’s because it was under-appreciated, not because it wasn’t good.
King: That’s a creative goal, when you find something that was dismissed, and you know it’s good. You know people dismissed it for the wrong reasons, and it talks to you… man that’s when you start working! That’s when you’re like, "Ok, now it’s a good day to be a creator." Because you can be influenced by something that people aren’t looking at, and you can create something new that they’ve never seen before. And then they can go back to the stuff that you saw and say, "Oh my God, that was there the whole time." It’s like digging for gold and you just found a nugget.
Every issue of Mister Miracle begins with the same way that issue of Jack Kirby - the same exact words that Jack Kirby wrote at the beginning. You take that, you put it in a different context and suddenly you see that these words have these deep meanings behind them that were meaningful to him, and can talk to us. That comes right from the idea of sampling, where you take something that was made for a party or something and you interpret that and you put your own stuff on it, and it becomes completely different. I totally see that as a parallel.
Gerads: I hear [Rashad]’s got a track on his album called "Darkseid."
Rashad: The way the beat sounds, it’s so fucking winding and hypnotic. And it seemed like a doom you can’t escape. I’m like, that’s Darkseid right?
King: That’s what Darkseid is. He’s not just just a bad guy who punches you in the face. He’s the bad guy behind every door that brings you down.
Rashad: [There’s a phrase repeated through the book] “Darkseid is.” What the fuck does that mean? That shit is spooky.
Every time I saw it I’m like, what I think is happening isn’t happening. I took it as paranoia. It seemed like halfway through it I wasn’t sure if he really existed.
King: Dude, you’re my ideal reader. I should give credit to my buddy Julian Lytle who came up with that interpretation. I kind of thought that Darkseid was lame in the beginning, like you know, he’s like Thanos-lite or something. I know Thanos was created after him. But it was Julian who came to me and said, “No, Darkseid is not just a bad guy, he’s the existence of evil.”
Rashad: He is.
King: It’s the idea that just like, you wake up in the morning and it doesn’t matter what you’ve done man. The dark is there. Evil is there. And you’re gonna find it in your life, you just can’t avoid it.
Rashad: I just turned 30, and I realized depression, people make it seem like it’s something that just happens to you, where it’s like happy and sad. And I think depression is what we call something that we can usually identify as a certain level of being: confused and sad without really knowing why.
So putting depression into this album - it’s my music I make for when I’m having a bad day. If I’m not having that bad of a day, I don’t really listen to me like that. This project more than anything was less literal talking about every little detail of what had me where I was at, and more so creating a soundscape for when I go back to that - if I ever go back to it.
Basically my experience of depression, putting it on wax and shit, is to put those emotions on there but don’t put that word for word experience. ‘Cos some people do that shit, and that shit’s not entertaining. Like, my pain isn’t entertaining, it’s relatable. But not entertaining! It’s trying to keep that shit entertaining while not fucking listing off why everything sucks.
Gerads: The parallels of everything you just said are I think 1:1 on how we approach creating the things we create. It’s wild to see how relatable it is.
King: Yeah when I started writing, the first thing I did was I wrote about myself and just like, “Hey this is what happened to me.” And it sucked. It was terrible. I was like, who wants to hear about my thoughts? It was only when I started writing about pretending to be other people, pretending to be superheroes, and I was like, “Ok, now I’m getting away from myself, I’m writing about this thing, I’m making something entertaining.” And then, looking back on it I realised it’s all autobiographical. I just told that story a different way.
Gerads: It’s the same thing with music: you’re having a bad day, you’re really down on something - it doesn’t help me to go put on the happiest song on my record player. I don’t want the happy song. I want the song that’s speaking to me in that dark moment. That helps me climb out.
Why was the house burning?
Rashad: So did [Scott Free] die? I won’t tell nobody! Was he dead that whole time?
Gerads: This is probably the annoying answer, but I think one of the biggest themes of that book when you get to the end is, did it matter if he did or not?
King: For me, the book started when I went through one of those things where I was with my family and suddenly my chest felt like it was going to burst and I thought I was going to die, and I hugged my kid and I said, “I think this is the end of me and I love you.” You end up in the hospital, and you look at the doctor like, “Am I dying or am I crazy?” And the doctor’s like, “This is all in your head. You’re having a panic attack, and there’s something in you that’s just a little broken, you just didn’t know about it. It was so deep in you that you didn’t even realise it was broken.”
And then you gotta spend years of your life trying to dig inside yourself to find what that is and fix it, and you realise when you’re on that journey you can’t even know exactly which one thing it was. You didn’t know which thing about it that broke you in that way. And so that’s like with Scott, he doesn’t know at the end he’s like, “I don’t know if I’m dead. I don’t know if I’m in hell. I don’t know if I’m in heaven. I don’t have an answer for what it is, but I know I’m ready to take the next step forward in my life.” I mean, there is an answer, but Scott doesn’t know it, so that’s why the audience doesn’t know it.
Rashad: Ayy, that’s cold. Why was the house burning? I don’t fucking know.
King: Yeah, but it’s on fire so we gotta deal with it.
Rashad: Is that the question to ask? Why was the house on fire? It’s not the important question… I still wanna know if he fucking died. That was a great answer, you did not tell me if this n***a died at the end, at all.