Trying to talk about Tom King and Mitch Gerad’s work on Mister Miracle feels like being asked to explain the meaning of life.
Or, Anti-Life, even.
While, sure, there are some examples within the 300 pages of the Mister Miracle trade paperback that supports specific views of what Anti-Life and Life Equations could be, ultimately the book itself is a mirror which is held up to every reader. I know that sounds heavy, but I want to share with you what I see in the mirror of this story and hope that you’ll attempt your own journey within its pages.
This work will affect you. It will warp your world. I genuinely believe some comics can change people, and this book is one of them.
The Monster At The End of This Boom Tube
The core premise of Mister Miracle resolves around the fact that, in the opening moments of the comic, Scott Free has undergone self-harmed and then awakens in the hospital alongside Big Barda. The opening panels illustrate the history of the New Gods, New Genesis, Apokolips, Highfather, and Darkseid in the style of a 80s or 90s styled cartoon series, complete with a static-like distortion that ripples through the screen, onto the pages, and even into the mind of both Scott and the readers.
Personally, I loved the jarring transition between the bright and colorful ‘origin’ story of the New Gods and Scott’s predicament with his mental health. I am not going to go as far as to say Mister Miracle is The Dark Knight Returns of the New Gods, but … okay … I’ll say it.
This book does for Mister Miracle what Miller did for Bruce Wayne. It opens up the darker recesses of his mind and asks us, as readers, to examine some very deep questions:
How do we handle despair, even when we have those around us who we trust? How much do we trust these people with? How much can (or, should) we rely on others when we’re unsure of ourselves?
How do we find answers to the unanswerable questions in life? Do we look to our accomplishments, do we look to our family, do we look to our children, or do we even look to our past traumas?
In my own life, having been a particular kind of abuse victim (verbal, primarily), building bonds can be hard. I love my wife with all my heart, but there will always be things hurt people have trouble doing, and in my case I question myself over everything. I never think I make the right choice, so Scott’s agonizing re-examination of where he has been, what he has done, and if what he has done is right gets me.
So, how can a retrospective examination of a comic character help people figure out their place in life?
I guess one of the first things you’ll need to ask yourself is if you think that Scott is dead or not. The opening of the story strongly suggests Scott’s fate as being how is … not in the world of the living. Where is he, then? To what has the Source bound him?
There are two answers provided towards the end of the story, both which being true and untrue at the same time. Scott’s fate is a paradoxical puzzle because, really, the answer is going to depend on the reader.
In a bizarre way, I sort of think this comic is in the tradition of a Sesame Street book which was published through Golden Press which first got released in 1971. It is called The Monster at the End of This Book and it stars Grover, the loveable blue monster. The premise of the story is simply that Grover, hearing the title of the book and thinking there is a scary monster at the end, tries to stop the reader with (comical) barriers so that the ending can never come. Yet, the more barriers he puts up, obviously the more the reader wants to get to the end.
I found myself enthralled by Mister Miracle’s fate in the same way that, as a child, I wanted to push through all the barriers to figure out the secret of Grover’s monster. Grover’s forewarnings lead him to figure out that he was the titular monster at the book’s end, which proves to be a sweet moment.
Mister Miracle can lead to that option as one interpretation of the ending, that Scott is exactly where he needs to be because he has overcome all the challenges which were in front of him. Sure, it may be a step too far to say that Scott’s son and daughter exist as the monsters in the book’s end, the things Scott fears about the most which in the end are his reward, but I’ll say it anyway.
In another darker sense, there is also the view that Scott is in his own private hell, a twisting landscape of eternal war between New Genesis and Apokolips which will never actually cease because of the choices he and Barda made. In a much more gruesome sense, Darkseid is the monster at the book’s end, and although his body is defeated by Scott (and, in a gruesome way, Orion as well) … Darkseid Is. Darkseid always in, and seemingly always must be for Scott,
But, then again, isn’t that the case with depression, despair, and all the kinds of horrors people manage to handle as best they can on a daily basis? Scott is never presented in this work as a person who got over what Granny and Darkseid did to him. There are numerous panels where Scott and Barda reference Granny and her teachings in a way that seems like they’re trying to validate what happened to them, to make it their strength, but trauma is a lackluster power source. It might empower you for a moment, but it drains you of more than you have.
Scott is a person who does manage to fight Darkseid when the time comes, yet Darkseid is a monster at the book’s end which is beyond the book itself. You can’t defeat him, and that is why Scott is in hell, because hell is a struggle without relief forever.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Miracle
Regardless of how you read Scott’s fate, his journey is what matters.
In the sunlit world of his life with Barda, Funky and his children, Scott learns to open himself up to love and to accept his flaws. That may not seem like as big a challenge as facing an evil god who wants your child as part of some twisted pact, but it can be for those who have trouble being open and genuine after they’ve been hurt.
Scott and Barda love one another, but the inability for Scott to open up about his private fears, his pains? When he does accept the future in store for him, when he does open up about his despair and concern for Granny and what happened to him, his life changes. It may not be the biggest seeming change, the whole ‘let’s remodel the house’ talk, but it’s earth-shifting for families to grow. It is hard to open up, to be honest, to be hurt in front of people, and it is even harder to trust they won’t hurt you back when you’re at your weakest.
There has (often) been a lot made about the semi-autobiographical nature of King and Gerad’s role in Mister Miracle, and I think that fills in a lot of the emotional gaps which sometimes exist in superhero stories. I am not saying all of those kinds of stories need a touch of our world in them, but for this work is connects with me. There is an almost magical-realist quality to what King and Gerad create here, but that is in no way bad all. It is refreshing.
Kirby and his desire to create a new mythos of heroes means we also need new gospels from the prophets of the New Gods, and I think (if you’ll pardon my obviously hyperbolic comments) that King and Gerad fill in the emotional energy these characters need in light of Kirby’s passing.
I love the New Gods, but they’ve never felt real. They’ve always felt like the kinds of characters who were ‘beyond’ this world, like the way Mister Miracle is presented at the comic’s start: they felt cartoonish, although please don’t misunderstand that comment to mean they’re bad. I consider Darkseid one of the best villains in DC’s entire mythos, yet Scott and Barda (and, heck, even Granny) feel tangibly alive in this story, and that’s why I invest so much in the ending.
The Face of God At The End of This Book
There are numerous references throughout Mister Miracle to looking upon the face of god, one of which comes from the very end of the story, where Scott talks about looking into the face of his son and, for a moment, becoming one with his ancestors.
That moment, for me, is what I would call a transcendental moment and it is what I feel literature does best when it connects to our hearts. Scott’s speech reminded me about the first time I read the book Siddhartha (1951) by Hermann Hesse. There is a beautiful moment at the close of the story when the character of Govinda, taking council with his aged and wise friend (the character Siddhartha of the title) has a transcendental moment. It reads as follows (with some abridgement):
“He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha, instead he saw other faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of hundreds, of thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all seemed to be there simultaneously, which all constantly changed and renewed themselves, and which were still all Siddhartha. […] he saw gods, saw Krishna, saw Agni–he saw all of these figures and faces in a thousand relationships with one another, each one helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying it, giving re-birth to it, each one was a will to die, a passionately painful confession of transitoriness, and yet none of then died, each one only transformed, was always re-born, received evermore a new face, without any time having passed between the one and the other face–and all of these figures and faces rested, flowed, generated themselves, floated along and merged with each other, and they were all constantly covered by something thin, without individuality of its own, but yet existing, like a thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, a shell or mold or mask of water, and this mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha’s smiling face, which he, Govinda, in this very same moment touched with his lips. And, Govinda saw it like this, this smile of the mask, this smile of oneness above the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness above the thousand births and deaths, this smile of Siddhartha was precisely the same, was precisely of the same kind as the quiet, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps benevolent, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gotama, the Buddha, as he had seen it himself with great respect a hundred times. Like this, Govinda knew, the perfected ones are smiling.”
Perhaps my experience with what King and Gerad has beautifully created here is somewhat like the experience Govinda had at the end of Siddhartha. It is a feeling, beautiful connection to something so much bigger than myself, a moment which has helped me at a time when I really needed to hear the hopeful message of Scott Free, that you can become better despite your flaws, that there is always an escape from pain thanks to love.
Thank you, Tom and Mitch, for having poured to much of yourselves into this comic. Thank you for helping us see your faces, and Scott’s face, and Barda’s face, and even the faces of little Jacob.
I am not sure how much this makes sense, or if I have even come close to explaining how beautiful this book is, but I hope at the very least you’ll read it and see what is revealed to you at the end of the book.
Want to hear more? Log on to Soundcloud and listen to the KMP Podcast Project — Episode 5.1, a crossover with The Comics Classroom about Mister Miracle!