Cracking the Equation: Mister Miracle #9

Part 9 of our running conversational commentary from Thomas and Adam on the 12-issue DC Comics series, Mister Miracle, by Tom King and Mitch Gerads. Previous installments located here

Adam: While still predictably psychologically brutal and sincerely harrowing in places, this ninth issue of Mister Miracle is without a doubt the funniest installment so far. A very sinister humour is peppered throughout as we watch peace negotiations unfold between Camp Kalibak of Apokolips & Camp Free of New Genesis.

From cute moments between Scott and Barda, to Kanto’s bathroom banter, from Fastback’s sudden fate to Kalibak’s Frasier Crane / Hank McCoy glasses and demeanour – there’s so much comic relief here. Some of it’s troubling, but it really is quite welcome as a mood stop-gap at this point in what has become an oppressively heavy-going (and brilliant) read each month. Does that sound harsh? I mean it in the best way – like we keep saying: meaningful adult superhero comics.

This issue is a real testament to Mitch Gerads’ range as an expressive cartoonist. I’d like to single out the representation Lightray here as an example. The perpetual detractor, Lightray sits through the negotiations as little more than a witness – with very little agency. And as such, we see him cycle through a whole range of emotions and moods which allow us to feel differently towards him in each scene. He’s embarrassingly hilarious as he sits petulant and simpering, he’s a total pain as he sits detached and sardonic, and he’s genuinely engaging and pathetic in its truest sense when he loses his temper and succumbs to his grief over Orion’s apparent death. The alternate powerless anger and tearfully-resigned capitulation Gerads etches into his face is truly the first time Lightray’s been meaningfully affecting as a sympathetic character. Another reflection on how total war affects everyone.

It’s really stunning character work whose craft has been at times the unsung, consistent heartbeat of this book. Whatever King’s putting on the table with his plotting and exceptionally-profound and when-necessary beautifully mundane prose, it’s Gerads that’s really driving it into our hearts. Such a complementary creative team.

Thomas: Gerads art is excellent every single issue but this one is where he knocks it out of the park. His characterization is stunning and on point. The Lightray scene that you described is a perfect example. What really makes it for me is the bored and tired looks that both Scott and Barda give him in the moment; Lightray has acted up like this before and it’s boring now. So good and understated but saying so much, just like that little moment with Kalibak and his glasses, which leaves Scott surprised and really taken aback. It also makes Kalibak more of a ‘real’ person and not just the lumbering animal that he’s usually portrayed as – something this team has been doing since the beginning.

As funny as this issue is, and it really is, it is also incredibly dark. As usual. I’m thinking specifically about Granny’s Mirror and the implications of what we see our heroes seeing in their reflections…

I don’t know if it’s still canon but it used to be the case that Orion NEEDED the Motherbox, specifically to make him look like a New Genesis God as opposed to the brutal, monstrous Apokoliptian that he was or that we believed him to be. And now here we have a window into the darkest depths of our heroes’ souls. These are not pure people, no matter how hard they may try to be, Mister Miracle and Big Barda are demons from hell; see for example their bathing in fire / lava. It doesn’t get more on the nose than that.

Adam: Balance. The creative team are showing us – and painstakingly – the humanity of the lesser / nastier / non-heroic characters while meaningfully exposing the darkness which dwells within our heroic / sympathetic / ‘good guy’ protagonists.

So if we’re closing the chasm, breaking down these essential oppositions – good and evil, New Genesis and Apokolips – then how do we navigate?