Cracking the Equation: Mister Miracle #4

Part 4 of our running conversational commentary from Thomas and Adam on the 12-issue DC Comics series, Mister Miracle, by Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Adam: Issue #4, or ‘The Living Room Trial of Mister Miracle’…

This outing definitely feels like the culmination of everything we’ve seen so far. Scott’s been court-martialled by Orion, with a treason charge. Blasé and detached, Scott requests that he stand trial in his own living room so Barda, Lightray, and a nervous-looking bodyguard squeeze onto the couch while Orion paces the tiny space, grilling the defendant with a tortured, consciously entrapping series of interrogations. Halfway through proceedings, Scott and Barda receive an Amazon delivery, and also eat carrots and celery throughout. Eventually, Scott erupts in an emotional, existentinal outburst leaving all parties stunned, reeling.

Thomas: That court-martial: “Every statement is true or false.” So states Highfather Orion as he presides over the trial of Mister Miracle playing judge, jury and executioner. The setting is wonderfully banal as befitting the homebody couple that is Scott and Barda. The questioning that Orion puts Scott through is thorough and very revealing, especially when you take Gerads’ distorted panels as illustrating Scott’s lies – which in some cases makes things even more opaque than before, though mostly it does help to clarify some of what Scott is currently going through.

Scott’s assertion that The Highfather is an Agent of Darkseid is true but when Orion asks; “I am an agent of Darseid, True or False?” Scott’s answer, ‘true’ is a lie. And back down the rabbit hole we go. Highfather is an agent of Darkseid but Orion is not. As far as Scott is concerned Orion is, therefore NOT Highfather. So who is? One view of this could be that Izaya is the only true Highfather in Scott’s eyes and his dealings with Granny Goodness makes him an Agent of Darkseid. Unlikely.

Or: In one of the ’90s Mister Miracle series, Scott became Highfather of New Genesis. Is Scott implying that he believes himself to be Highfather? As someone born and raised on Apokolips, as the son of Granny Goodness (possibly), and as the Anti-Life Equation, he is also in some sense a soldier/agent of Darkseid – thus explaining his assertion that Highfather is an agent of Darkseid.

Adam: “I am God” reads Scott’s coffee mug. The television distortion that suddenly does seem to indicate the real moments or unreality, the lies, begins to make so much sense of what’s going on. And yes, at the same time, it starts to fragment truths – to where, much to the mounting horror of Orion, some statements can be both true and false. As you say, we gain some clarity but we’re also plunged further into mystery.

Taking the TV distortion lens and looking back through the previous issues, something stands out. The moments where Scott is actually on TV, on Godfrey’s late-night talk show, it’s all distorted because television is fake – none of it’s real. Poignantly in the first two issues, the only other moments where the distortion hits – and indicates lies are at work – are panels where Scott, or Mister Miracle, is affirmed as an escape artist without limit (eg Issue #1, page 5, panel 8: “I can escape everything”). I believe this might amount to a foreshadowing of Scott’s impending death.

Despite the TV distortion, what is exceptionally clear is the pain of Scott’s existential meltdown. Before he descends into true fury, frightening Orion, Scott falls into an aggravated self-questioning stance. “My name is not Scott Free” – it’s a cruel nickname. “My name’s not ‘Mister Miracle'” – it’s another performer’s mantle he took on. He laments not having his own name, not having asked his father what it was. In the midst of all this unpacking, he also stumbles mentioning Granny Goodness. “I kept getting out and running when she…after she’d hurt me.” There’s a strong chance that that crucial pause indicates sexual abuse.

Thomas: That’s an interesting idea. This series has so far taken the black and white, good versus evil epic as created by Kirby and brought it without trial or tribulation into a darker, murkier shades of grey world where I have no doubt whatsoever that that would be the kind of thing that Granny would do to her own son. The apparent Stockholm Syndrome indicated by some of Scott’s reflections to Barda on his experience of their upbringing would also support that notion. It definitely adds to the horror of his origins, and puts his distance and detachment from what’s going on into sharper perspective as well.

One of the problems with the DC movies, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the apparent shame that the filmmakers have for the source material and how ‘silly’ it all is. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the most successful DC movies in the past forty years are the ones where the creators respected the characters and the comics that they came from. In trying to determine what this series is actually about four issues in, I would have to say that it’s about respecting the source material but building on what came before. A real writer isn’t hindered by what came before but challenged. Mister Miracle is a positive and upbeat character, so instead of indulging in the obvious sex and violence as ‘mature themes’, King and Gerads have crafted an adult title that builds on the implicit darkness of the character’s past growing up on a literal Hell world, and then using it to strip away and perhaps rebuild.

Adam: I think that’s it. Having thrown around so many of the themes King and Gerads have at work so far, I honestly think maybe we’ve hit on what this book really is, what it’s doing and where it’s going:

As you mention, the original Mister Miracle by Kirby is about someone whose hope, joy and optimism overcome his nightmarish cosmic origins. I believe King and Gerads are re-telling that story, re-affirming that character – a rebirth, if you will. The difference, of course, is that the hell they’re putting our hero through here is psychological and most brilliantly, it’s specifically the residual grounding trauma and pain left by his Kirby origins.

Completely masterful and utterly profound, this is adult superhero comics taking notes from, but moving beyond the cynicism of the grim n’gritty style that’s dominated at DC Comics since The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen