Cracking The Equation: Mister Miracle #3

Part 3 of our running conversational commentary from Thomas and Adam on the 12-issue DC Comics series, Mister Miracle, by Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Thomas: I don’t know where to start here there’s just so much going on. Gerads’ flickering, interference-riddled Reality TV approach to the visuals helps keep this book off-kilter and allows the horror of the story to stay somewhat in the background of a book that is increasingly feeling like a ‘90s Vertigo series, and I mean that in a good way. I’m getting flashes of Scarab, Shade and Enigma here as the story slowly and painfully unfolds – and it is increasingly painful.

The unreality of this series is so wonderfully aggravating that it’s impossible to know what’s real and what’s not or if any of it is even ‘real’ at all. This third issue finds Scott growing further distant, and there’s coldness in Scott that seems to be getting worse with each issue as he continues to be disconnected from the world. It shows not just when he witnesses a murder in front of him but even in his dealing with a fan, the type of person he should at this point be handling with experience and ease but seems unsure of particularly in regards to Barda’s place in relation to fandom. The moment could be seen as Scott being dismissive of Barda but it somehow feels worse than that.

Adam: Yeah, this issue is honestly quite difficult to talk about – because of the unreality of it, as you say. What do you focus on when you’re not sure what’s really real, what’s even actually happening? To be clear, this is yet another wonderful piece of comics, through and through.

This might be a weird thought to attempt to convey, but being where we are here at Orbital, we’re almost through the comics industry looking-glass. Often enough, we’re able to see the machinery at work – the way a book’s positioned for a six-issue trade, the obvious editorial mandates, the awkward event tie-in issues. As retailer-critics we’re basically always reading books with a deconstructive eye, and I reckon that’s mostly a good thing. With King and Gerads here though, what they’re doing is so next-level, their craft so exquisite that we’re actually properly immersed in the journey they’re laying out. It’s utterly bizarre, but the mechanics of this book are beyond us, out of view – and it is completely refreshing. This is what mainstream adult superhero comics can be.

Although I’d say that Mister Miracle‘s steering clearer of the literary allusions that were so characteristic, I really like the comparison with ’90s Vertigo, for sure. Three issues in, and this book feels like it absolutely has to a limited series and couldn’t make for an ongoing narrative. And that’s not because there’s not enough juicy content to sustain something longer-term, but instead because the world-building has been so deliberately unsettled and fluctuating. There’s nowhere for you to sit down with this book. The parameters are perpetually in flux. Again, what’s real?

To try and get to some of that juicy, elusive content though, you’re right to pick up on Scott’s growing coldness and distance in this issue. Whether the events around him are real or not, it’s becoming quite tough to watch. This issue opens with Scott recounting one of Granny Goodness’s Christmas stories – an appalling Holocaust story, as it happens. When confronted with an obviously parallel dilemma in the war between New Genesis and Apokolips though, Scott is devoid of compassion, and watches blankly as one of his colleagues and old friends, someone crucially of another race, is executed without mercy. It’s awful.

As the book progresses and Scott slips more and more into this excruciating moral ambiguity, I’m also becoming fascinated by Orion. There’s some sense in which he is maybe insistently representing the black and white morality of Kirby’s Fourth World narratives?

Thomas: Where I think Orion is truly black and white is actually in relation to his attitude towards Scott’s mental health issues. Generally speaking, the attitude of most people in the past towards mental health problems has been divided into two camps: those who choose to ignore the problem and try to brush it under the carpet à la Barda or, as Orion has continually advocated, to simply ‘get over it’. There’s absolutely no empathy in that way of thinking and it comes from a lack of understanding, wilfully or otherwise. He cannot comprehend that what Scott’s going through isn’t anything more or worse than simply feeling sad. His jealousy of Scott certainly doesn’t help matters.

The two closest people in Scott’s life are simultaneously pushing him further and further away by their words and actions. He is literally asking for help, and getting only speeches and deflections in return. It’s telling that the only person to seem interested in helping him was the brief interlude with the ghost of Oberon in issue two a man who was, at the very least, an older brother figure. The more the problem isn’t dealt with then the worse it’s going to get, see his reaction to the murder of a forager in front of him. He’s not present any longer to the point where he does nothing to stop Orion from battering him.

Though at that point I don’t think Orion was even listening – since Scott revealed he is/holds within him the Anti-life Equation, one more thing that makes him even more special than Orion. It’s very Cain and Abel-ish (haven’t read the story in decades so forgive me if I’m wrong) which makes since given the title and that first image of Scott on the toilet floor in the first issue.

Adam: I love looking back at Oberon from here with all this in mind. He was Scott’s engineer – he kept him running, and not just in his escape artist performances.

Three issues in, the mental health aspect is definitely a major theme – along with the idea that Barda and Orion are simply refusing to listen, or take Scott’s problems seriously, we also have the backdrop of the war, and we see our protagonist couple ‘on leave’ in this issue. When they’re out to brunch and Barda informs Scott that “Orion wants us back early”, it really drives home the idea that the true cost of war for the individual who survives is, of course, trauma. And ‘leave’ is not enough. It’s so painful because we’re obviously watching the onset, or compounding of some serious psychological damage. As cries for help go unheard, the opportunities to intervene and perhaps begin processes healing are just falling by the wayside.

I’m certainly hoping that as the book moves forwards, we’ll pivot towards uncovering more of the relative mindsets, and innermost feelings of Barda and Orion. They’re both such staunch, powerful figures in this narrative so far. I’m especially drawn into the tensions between the stated positions they take up and the words King gives them to speak with such confidence, and the slight, but crushing inflections of self-doubt Gerads builds into their depictions.