It’s been a really bad few years in America.
Crushing years in terms of anxiety and fear. We all know the external force that is burgeoning anxiety. I feel stuck between fear for myself, guilt over those who have more to fear than I, and a relentless desire to want to fix it all. Fight. Make it right. Escape, in the large sense — not individually, but collectively — from the unraveling happening right before all of our eyes.
But fighting doesn’t make what we’re experiencing any less dangerous. Even if it feels like it does.
And something my therapist said — after a few weeks of listening to me verbally vomit over 12 months of fear, insecurity, and vulnerability — really struck me, and seems particular apt in this context.
I wish I could tell you that you were delusional or paranoid. I’m sorry that I can’t.
That is a profoundly scary statement.
So, Scott Free is not having a very good year either. And frankly, I get it.
After attempting to take his own life, Mister Miracle has been pulled between fighting a seemingly impossible war for a leader he doesn’t trust and continuing his daily life as a performer, husband, and relatively normal man who’s also a New God.
At one point in the recent graphic novel collection, he’s being put on trial as an agent of Darkseid. Is he? Does he even know what he is anymore?
Do any of us?
The life trap Scott Free has found himself in is more than him and less in many ways. But at its root, it’s hard to see it as paranoia. As simply imagination. King, Gerads, and Cowles have so woven Scott’s mania as a thoroughly maddening web of distrust, fear, and even misdirection and disruption.
But they have also made it feel unquestionably, undeniably, down-to-the-core real.
This prime sequence in chapter 4 is an inquisition, a trial conducted by the new Highfather Orion to determine if Scott is, in fact, an agent of the Anti-Life. Question after question in true/false format, designed for only one outcome, and Scott knows it. As sure as shackles, the inquiry moving back and forth tightens its grip on Scott and its staccato pace across the nine-panel grid, like a game of ping pong, gets increasingly nerve-wracking.
It’s one clear example how the entire creative team melds to work in unison to achieve this kind of tension. Given King’s background in the CIA, there’s little surprise in his expertise in this kind of interrogation, as the dialogue almost feels like a tightening knot the closer you get to its end. What’s more delightful is the perfect concert Gerads and Cowles both exhibit in making the scene work.
Gerads already delivered a nice bit of foreshadowing early in the issue with the physical beating of Lightray. It’s brutal and transparently felt, from tightened stomach muscles to convulsing face. And even once the physical confrontation is over, the after effects linger in every panel Lightray appears in. This is a character that is nothing if not charming, light, and airy, now brought down to earth by a bloody beating. It’s a fair parallel for what Scott is about to experience.
And so we see it play out with Gerads pencils as Scott’s stoicism begins to crumble under questioning. It is such a subtle manipulation of line that without Cowles’ steady balloon placement — giving this truly chilling essence to Orion’s inquiry — you might be hard pressed to take it as seriously as we must. It’s the tiniest of shadows and wrinkles that betray what will eventually be Scott’s complete breakdown, which Gerads guarantees I feel in my chest.
This panic, this explosion from a now raw psyche, is so powerful that it’s almost not contained by the panel grid. And seeing how everything gets smaller for Scott, first by being embraced by Barda — a giant by comparison — and then by a closing of the panel itself. It’s a magnificent sequence, punctuated by captions lifted from the original Mister Miracle #4, by Jack Kirby himself. A repeat of history. A trap already designed. A predetermined outcome.
And that’s one of the biggest fears, isn’t it? Inevitability. The impossibility of agency. The life trap that constricts no matter how hard you push against it. No matter how much rage or love or indifferent snark one expresses in the moment. And all of it occurring concurrent with the mundane.
The vegetable platter King inserts into these seemingly dire circumstances is no accident. It’s an enactment of everything we go through that seems utterly ordinary while the abnormal crashes down around our heads. It’s a momentary sustenance as the anti-life takes hold. It’s the package that comes for a show that Scott might not even live to perform. But we live both worlds at once: the mundane and oppressive. The human and the monstrous. The interior and the war.
Is there a win in there somewhere? Escape — resistance — feels thrilling until it takes its emotional toll. It’s exciting until the stakes seem completely stacked against you. And then all that’s left is fear. Hate. Anti-life.
As the book continues, we see the birth of Scott and Barda’s child. A joyful, redeeming moment that punctuates an otherwise anxiety-filled journey.
But that joy is not meant to last.
It’s a dilemma that goes back to as far as Abraham and Isaac: if it meant satisfying your god and guaranteeing the lives and happiness of a generation of your people, would you be willing to sacrifice your child? Your own flesh and blood for the sake of millions?
Could you do it? Should you do it?
For an escape artist, Scott Free is surprisingly a very linear thinker.
One would think that a man used to swerving death like a skateboarder on a crowded sidewalk would have the propensity for multi-dimensional thinking that could peer through Darkseid’s challenge, and find another way besides sacrificing his only son to the same fate he experienced as a child.
But the thing about escape artists, perhaps, is that while they may be good at getting out of trouble, that doesn’t meant they’re good at not getting into it in the first place.
Scott is a man who knows how to suffer. To suffer and then thrive. To rise above and to feel the sun on his face after a lifetime of darkness.
But he doesn’t know what it’s like to simply live in the sun.
And that’s a big part of what it seems Tom King is getting at with his characterization of Scott’s depression, suicide, and overall mental state. This world is crushing for him, this happy world. A world with balloons and Batman cakes and a condo and a son who never has to climb out of the fire pits of Apokolips to meet his destiny. It all weighs on him like an invisible pack, piled upon his shoulders, even hunching him, as Mitch Gerads so elegantly displays in panel after panel.
Scott has Barda to pick up the pieces for him, time and time again. To be his defender. His tank. The mama bear. And now King and Gerads have been able to crack that armor every married couple that’s the least bit honest with each other should recognize a little: that illusion that being a one-sided, ultimate caretaker takes no toll. That being the strong one isn’t exhausting nearly every second of the day, in ways that you don’t even realize until much much later.
Is it that Scott simply can’t handle being happy? Or is it that he understands that happiness to be a complete fabrication? A wavering signal from the television screen in his mind that indicates this all could be revealed to be no more real than a daytime soap opera?
It’s the banality of scene after scene that Gerads is infusing into Scott’s daily life that feels so seductive and so unnerving at the same time. It reminds me of every moment of depression I’ve faced, while still having to get up and go to work and come home and do dishes and feed the cats — having to continue on in a “normal” world when everything inside my head felt anything but. And seeing that crack in Barda now too is at once comforting and again unnerving.
But the real challenge King and Gerads are laying out is whether the ability of one child to avoid the scars his parents bear is worth the death of a million new gods and soldiers.
And believe it or not, the creators are convincing me that it is. Not through comic book bravado or capes and cowls that are guaranteed to save the day. But in positing this idea of freedom from the weight that Barda and Scott bear, and what that freedom will mean, not just for little Jacob, but for everything Jacob is able to do for the rest of his life and beyond.
During and after the Holocaust especially, Jews held close to their hearts a Talmudic saying, roughly:
Whoever destroys a soul [of Israel], it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life of Israel, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
It’s counterintuitive, and in this case almost monstrous, to think of choosing to do nothing to stop a war that could claim millions over the comfort of a single child. And yet. Isaac was not meant to be sacrificed, truly. And these creators know that. His mother knows it. The drama lies in the escape, not the sacrifice.
Darkseid is… defeated, ultimately.
And the hero of our tale gets to go on with his life, raise a family, and not worry about the next crisis or continuity glitch. He’s escaped from repeating the mistakes of his father, the punishment of his “granny,” and the drama his black sheep brother brings to every holiday.
In effect, Scott Free is truly free. In every way he ever wanted to be. And I can imagine a world where that’s a sincere disappointment to his fans, his family, to friends and enemies alike.
Because Mister Miracle has always been at the center of a cycle of abuse and revitalization that Jack Kirby imagined as never-ending. A Fourth World that would forever supplant those before it. That existed to frighten and inspire mere humans who would read its tales over and over for decades, always coming back to them like legends — some of whom even would rise to replay them on the page, always adding a little or tweaking a bit, but always returning Scott to that same spot in the narrative.
Who can blame the man for wanting to escape?
It’s a teleological conundrum: Scott’s escape. Did he truly cheat death in that moment back in chapter 1? Or did he cheat life? Was his escape from an endless cycle of pain and struggle, from — as Oberon so succinctly puts it — all those crises and continuities that never really made sense, a defeat or a win?
It depends on who you ask, I suppose.
King and Gerads certainly seem to have an answer. And I get it. A life of adventure. Of life-and-death stakes. Of furies and forever people. That’s a lot to walk away from for the normalcy of two kids and a condo in LA with your seven-foot tall wife, even if her version of going to work is booming across the universe to beat up a dude in Renfaire gear. It’s a lot to get to a place where you can choose — actively choose — to leave behind the pain that defined your existence for decades in favor of happiness.
It seems so hum drum. This is a super-hero, man.
But it’s probably the most amazing, transformational thing I’ve read in a comic book in over a decade.
Scott Free escaped his life. He looked into the face of his anti-life and chose it. Willingly chose to leave the burden of his father’s choices, the trauma of his abusive childhood, and the obligation of never-ending war with himself behind. Is that heaven? Is that hell? Is that life? Is that anti-life?
It depends on who you ask.
This series has been nothing if not thought-provoking, soul-provoking, and life-provoking from beginning to end. A quintessential piece of comic literature that deserves study, respect, and admiration. Tom King and Mitch Gerads have produced a riddle that provokes more questions than answers as you seek to unravel it, and that’s a lot harder than it looks. And yet, Mister Miracle stands as a nearly effortless-looking masterpiece of deep thought and feeling.
Bravo, gentlemen. Bravo, Scott Free. You’ve done Jack Kirby proud.