Spotlight Sunday 12.17.17
I got my Christmas miracle, so spoilers await as we take a look at…
Mister Miracle #5
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Cover: Nick Derington
Variant Cover: Mitch Gerads
I’ve wanted to write about Mister Miracle since I started doing these Spotlight Sunday posts, so I’m glad to finally get the chance, though I do apologize for my blatant attempts at influencing the voting.
After all, if I wanted to just write about what I want to write about I’d eliminate the voting entirely, but the voting is the whole point, as I want to create an opportunity for you to be involved, to drive engagement, and make this whole thing inclusive and at least somewhat interactive.
As I’ve said a few times, and as the format makes clear, these Spotlight entries aren’t really reviews, they’re more akin to conversations. Yes, they’re a bit one-sided – which I why I like having the Weigh In to help shift the balance at least a little – but ultimately, this is just me talking about comics I’ve read. As one of you can attest, in these posts I write about comics pretty much exactly the way I’d talk about a comic with you in person.
The point is, I’m grateful that you’ve finally consented to letting me ramble on about this comic, and to show my gratitude, going forward, I will do my best to refrain from trying to fix the vote.
There’s a certain irony in the fact that as much as I want to talk with you about this comic, it’s really something that you have to experience for yourself to understand just why I’ve been so eager to talk about it. I can tell you what happens in it, show you some pages from it, and try to explain why I think it’s so good, but unless and until you read it yourself you’re never going to fully appreciate the effect that comes from holding the comic in your hand and seeing for yourself that it is truly something special.
As I describe it here, it might even seem, well, boring. This issue is something of an exemplar of what the series, to date, has been like, as there’s not a whole lot that happens in it – Scott Free (Mister Miracle) and his wife, Big Barda, spend a day together, much of it stuck in traffic, as Scott prepares to face his execution the next day – but at the same time there’s so much happening.
But okay, let’s get some of the plot stuff out of the way. At the start of the series, Scott Free had been hospitalized after attempting suicide. As he explains later, it was a new trick for his act as “The World’s Greatest Escape Artist.” It was an attempt at the ultimate escape: escaping death. (Or was it really about escaping life?)
Since that time, a lot of odd things have been happening in his life, things that lead him – and us – to wonder if he really did manage to escape death. His best friend, Oberon, is dead, though Scott has no recollection of that happening, and had, in fact, just been speaking to him minutes before being “reminded” of his death. His wife’s eyes are a different color than he remembers. There’s always this nagging sensation that something, somehow, is not right, and that this is not his life.
He has little time to think about it, as he ends up dragged into a war between the New Gods of Apokolips and New Genesis, after learning that his father, the former Highfather of New Genesis, has died, and that Orion has assumed that role and title.
It’s that latter point that brings us to the predefined endpoint of this issue’s story, the execution – for treason against the new Highfather – that awaits him.
Our story opens with Scott telling Barda that if she asks him to stay (alive), he will. He’ll go to war against all of New Genesis. Kill Orion. All she has to do is say it.
Barda refuses, telling him that she can’t be his way out, that it’s up to him to decide what he wants to do.
And so, on Earth, the world that they’ve made their home, they spend their last day together.
It’s a day filled with fairly mundane activities (that nevertheless are of special significance to them), and, naturally enough for two people in love, some sexy times.
But, just all days do, the day ends, and as Scott hears the unmistakable “boom” in his living room, he slips out of bed, leaving Barda sleeping, to meet Funky Flashman, who, accompanied by Highfather’s executioners, prepares to take Scott to his fate.
As Flashman – who was created by Kirby, or so it’s been said, as a parody of Stan Lee – explains that they’re going to take him down for a pre-execution press conference, which is all part of the PR efforts Flashman has been engaging in on behalf of the New Gods, another Boom Tube opens up behind the executioners, and they, along with Funky Flashmen, get their heads bashed in.
Naked and covered in the lifeblood of the men who tried to take him from her, Barda walks to Scott and utters a single word.
I picked up the first issue of Mister Miracle based on some preview pages I saw posted on reddit, and because, like many people, I’m a big fan of Kirby’s Fourth World Saga in general, and of Mister Miracle in particular, and of Big Barda even more particularly.
(While Mother Box would probably be a more appropriate name, Big Barda is the name I’ve given to my phone. I love me some Barda, but then, as was asked in an earlier issue of the comic, doesn’t everyone?)
Part of what I love about Barda is that she’s not complicated. That’s not to say that she’s a simple character or lacks complexity, but to have a handle on who Barda is, you really need to understand only two things
- She likes to fight
- She loves her husband more than anything
This issue, despite the ambiguity of everything else that’s happening, makes that second point especially clear, and every issue so far has proven that King has an understanding of Barda, which is, in itself, a strong point in the book’s favor.
As I said earlier, though, simply telling you about the book and what happens in it doesn’t really make it clear why the comic is a best-seller, with many issues requiring multiple printings, and why so many people agree with me that it’s the best series of the year.
You really do need to read it yourself to experience the feelings it evokes, with the tight grid composition creating a sense of claustrophobia and being trapped – which is fitting for a comic about an escape artist – and the close focus on the characters within creating a sense of intimacy.
The subdued color palette that dulls the bright colors of the costumes adds to the sense that something is off, that what should be a brightly-lit world – a Kirby world – is missing something, that nothing is what it appears, or what it should be, as does the odd little interference effect that is reminiscent, if you’re an old like me, of the tracking being off during the playback of a VHS tape.
And throughout, we get the periodic reminder of a very important point.
This is a comic that has a particular resonance for anyone who has ever grappled with depression, as we watch Scott go through the motions of his life, and we sense that feeling of being numb but not quite numb, of searching desperately for something to hold on to, something that, against the odds, will provide a way out.
That sense of being numb but not numb is conveyed in dialogue – particularly in some of the stories that Scott tells, or his explorations of philosophy and history – but also in the art. With the dialogue, we encounter a kind of coldly-remote, clinical articulation of what’s raging inside of him, a calmness that belies the intensity of what he feels, when he allows himself to feel. The coldness, the clinical, academic style provides a kind of distance, a means to express something that, if expressed without that filter would consist of nothing but incoherent screaming.
In the art, we see it in his expressions, in his posture, and in the expressions and postures of those around him.
Consider the look on his face in the middle panel, hidden as it is among the other expressions:
What he feels inside manages, in that moment, to break through not only the figurative mask he wears, but even the literal mask.
Returning to Barda, while it would seemingly make more sense that, from the beginning, she would want to fight to keep him with her, to save him, she was, from a certain perspective, making the right choice by not asking him to stay. It had to be up to him. She couldn’t make him want to stay.
There are things that we can’t do for the sake of others, that we have to do for ourselves, if for no other reason than that the time will likely come in which we start to resent the people for whom we do them.
In the end, Barda found that she couldn’t just leave it up to him. One can hardly fault her, but beyond that, it could be argued that in telling her he’d stay if she asked he was telling her that he had decided. Barda isn’t his way out, but her participation is essential to him finding a way out.
It reminds me of one of my favorite Scott and Barda interactions from a different comic from several years back, an issue of Batman: Beyond Universe in which the future Justice League has an encounter with the future Justice Lords, a brutal, authoritarian version of the League from an alternate universe.
The Justice Lords Barda had long ago lost her own Scott, and entered into a loveless, politically-motivated marriage with Orion. The Justice League Barda and Scott (and several other members of the League) were being held prisoner by the Justice Lords in a prison that even Mister Miracle couldn’t escape (his late counterpart had built it as the ultimate prison), with Justice Lords Barda as their jailer. Leauge Barda starts haranguing her husband about his incompetence, and proclaims that she’s sick of him, and can no longer stand the sight of him. Lords Barda, who still longs for her lost love, asserts that if League Barda doesn’t want him, she’ll gladly take him off her counterpart’s hands. Scott agrees to the transfer, and after Lords Barda sets him free, he zaps her unconscious and sets his teammates free, and is reunited with his Barda who was never actually angry with him. As Scott explains that it was all just part of the escape plan, he tells the other Leaguers, “What people don’t understand is that Mister Miracle has never been a solo act.”
It’s unclear how, if it does at all, Mister Miracle fits into current continuity, particularly if one considers the recent storyline in Superman (or what’s happening in the Bonus below), but, and I say this as the kind of comic book nerd who actually likes and cares about continuity, it doesn’t matter. This comic is just too good to waste time worrying about how to fit it into the larger universe.
“You know him!! I know him!! Everybody gets to know a ‘Funky Flashman.’ The question is: ‘Do we need him?’ This can become a desperate issue—if a ‘Funky Flashman’ can decide your fate! Watch Mister Miracle get taken!!! By the con’s con-man!!! The funkiest agent of them all!!!”
There’s a lot more I could say, but, again, simply relaying what the comic is like, or what happens in it, or just pointing out some of the nice touches like including some of the bombastic Kirby text from some of the original Mister Miracle comics, as with the description of Funky Flashman (quoted above) that’s included on the page on which Barda takes Funky and Highfather’s executioners out, to serve as a contrast to the action of the comic itself, just doesn’t do the book justice.
I’ll just conclude by saying “Read it – experience it – for yourself.”
Wonder Woman #36 finds the Amazing Amazon bound and at the mercy of Grail and Jason.
After she tries, and fails, to reason with her jerk of a brother, Diana reveals that she’s not as at their mercy as she appeared, and breaks free. Grail assumes that they’ll defeat her once again, but Diana points out that this time around she’s royally pissed. However, young Darkseid intervenes and though he doesn’t want Diana dead (yet), and he’s not restored to his full power (or age), he’s certain he has what it takes to take her out.
However, Diana’s attempts at reasoning with Jason weren’t as futile as they seemed – he’s especially troubled to learn that Grail intentionally killed his brother/friend Hercules – but before he can make up his mind which side he’s on in this conflict, a new combatant enters the fray: Hercules’s attorney?
(He’s actually been Zeus in disguise the whole time.)
That does it for this week’s Spotlight Sunday.
Thanks to everyone who voted, and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday.