Cracking the Equation: Mister Miracle #5

Part 5 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: Book ends baby, book ends. After the last issue I found myself reappraising the main cover of this installment and somewhat dreading the implications of what had originally looked like just a nice day at the beach for our heroes. And it plays out somewhat as I expected, and it is indeed a nice day out for Scott and Barda. It’s also terribly heart-breaking and funny as hell, illustrating in equal measure both these people’s love for each other and how much their upbringing on Apokolips has shaped them as adults, and as Gods.

This issue also seems to affirm our theory about this maxi-series in both subtle and quite brutal fashion. Funky Flashman has always been an odious character based on a man who has conflated his own part in the history of American comics above, and to the detriment of the actual creators – for financial gain and the misplaced adoration of the zombies. Whereas Kirby was happy to simply point out the vacuous fakery of Stan Lee, King and Gerads are not having any of it savagely murdering the vile Funky Flashman as commentary. Assertion and vengeance for misdeeds in a long and scornful life as poster boy for all that’s wrong with the Big Two.

Adam: I don’t even think there’s much of a case for saying you’re reading too much into it here. Kings and Gerads are just very, very forthright with this. They have clearly done their homework, pored over the Fourth World lore and are set on producing a magnificent, loving and renewing tribute to the most influential of all Western comic artists, Jack Kirby. Mister Miracle has thus far been peppered with lovely, subtle tributes to Kirby: from having Barda and Scott visit Kirby’s hand-print on a Walk of Fame, to Oberon’s grave bearing the surname Kurtzberg (Jack’s birth name). So of course it follows that they understand Funky Flashman as Kirby’s Stan Lee pastiche. Having Big Barda, who is commonly read as a tribute by Jack Kirby to his wife Roz, determine Funky’s fate is yet another very, very conscious tribute.

I know I feel differently about Stan Lee than you do, and I think that possibly the fairest, most balanced portrait out there is in Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story – but it’s undeniable that Lee has often been known to patronise, condescend to, and minimise the contributions of Jack Kirby. So even if what happens here in the pages of Mister Miracle #5 is a little extreme, there’s a catharsis to seeing two absolutely top-tier creators stand up for Kirby in this way. Mister Miracle is not only looking like a true, modern story of rebirth, it’s a considered metatextual letter with absolutely no qualms about intervening in the historical record as it stands. Bold from King and Gerads, bold from editor Jamie S. Rich, and ultimately also bold from DC Comics as a whole.

Pivoting back to our protagonists, while this ‘last day on Earth together’ issue is unequivocally gorgeous and moving, it’s still hard to see Scott unable to make the decision to keep living for himself. He can only do it, he can only stay and fight, at Barda’s behest. That’s depression, that’s lingering trauma. Barda commands Scott to stay, not to give in to his looming execution, because she loves him and wants him in the world, but quite crucially she doesn’t make that decision out of desperation. The calm resolve Gerads paints on her face, particularly on the last page here, reads like Barda seeing that she has to ask Scott to stay as a vital step in his healing process. Which I think makes this issue a key hinge in the unfolding story we feel we’re seeing. Surely we eventually revisit the question of Scott’s will to live at the close of the series, and find instead a revived and roaring affirmation?

Thomas: Oh absolutely. And it feels increasingly likely that there will be a reset button at some point – though I have no idea how it will come about because what has happened has happened, whether it actually did or not. If that makes any sense. The character growth is real.

Barda’s command is the first step in her understanding that he does genuinely need help, that it’s not something that he can get through on his own. This is a character that has always fought against the darkness and yet here he is ready to roll over and give up. The reality of that day together and why it’s so heart-breaking leads to her decision to say ‘stay’ – something she would never have had to say in the past but really does have to at this moment.

He needs her to see who he is so that he can see himself. Gerads continues to illuminate the lies with his distortions beginning with the façade that is Hollywood but moving straight to who Scott is in the first of many amusing moments in this issue. Following his statements in the previous issue, Scott’s identity seems to be at the core of his problems; how can he see the face of God if he doesn’t know who he is, if he cannot see himself then he cannot see God, and if he cannot see God then he cannot exist. And so we cycle back to the unreal nature of his current reality. Who is Scott Free and how can he escape Death if he isn’t alive / real / God?

Adam: I think that, yeah, as much as we reckon we know where we’re headed from here, it’ll continue to be a beautiful, interesting and of course gut-wrenching journey to get there. I’m suddenly considering the pacing, too. I fully expected three arcs of four for this twelve-issue maxi-series, but with this calmer, direction-shifting fifth issue, I’m reminded of Omega Men.

When Toby Cypress steps in, covering regular series artist Barnaby Bagenda for #4, the narrative takes a measured pause and what we get is essentially a catch-up issue through the respective lenses of two characters meeting for the first time. It’s a very unexpected moment of peace in what had already become an exceptionally dense, absorbing series in just its first three issues. This installment of Mister Miracle feels similar – a particularly beautiful, moving, and cathartic moment of quiet before the coming storm. Scott Free’s first renewal. Notably as well, in both Omega Men and Mister Miracle too, these stop-gap issues are decidedly romantic, suggesting that King firmly believes in the power of love to soothe, repair, restore and prepare.