We just finished up recording our podcast for Tom King and Mitch Gerards’s Mr. Miracle series. It’s no secret to say that it’s really good. It took Eisner awards for writing and art; it won nearly universal acclaim from other creators. Even Rob Stewart, my personal nemesis when it comes to discussing award-winning books, agrees that the series is very good. That’s how good it is.
However, there’s a catch: as undeniable as the quality is, there is plenty of room for interpretation as to what it’s all about. I won’t lie to you and pretend that I know for sure all of the answers. I wouldn’t trust anyone who claims to know the answers that isn’t Tom King or Mitch Gerards themselves. Even then, they can only tell you their intention, as once great art leaves the womb it (and its interpretation) belongs to the world at large. Still, as an English major, I love trying to figure this stuff out. So much so that Andy encouraged me to write this article about a read pile book (something that is traditionally frowned upon by the muckity mucks behind quality control in the Ghosts of the Stratosphere headquarters). Plus, Andy kept telling me that nobody wants to listen to a 3 hour podcast where I try to break down issue by issue what the ingredients are in this masterful mystery meatloaf.
With that in mind, I’m going to throw out some of my ideas and questions to try and work through this here, and I’ll try to stay as brief as possible. Let me know if you agree or disagree or if I’m totally in the dark about something or if I’m reading too much into something else. All of those possibilities are plausible. But this is what I do for fun when I get a really dense text I can dig into in a segment I’m going to call …Theories and Queries.
Be forewarned, there are spoilers aplenty. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and give it that first read-through before stuff gets so spoiled. Here it is via Amazon. Your local comic shop probably has it, too. Then come back for this so-far one sided discussion. Also, it might be handy to have your copy of the book nearby as we go through these. Go ahead and snag it; I’ll wait right here.
- First up, the Big Overarching Issues:
Theory: Scott Free is infected with the Anti-Life Equation from the beginning and occasionally cedes control to Darkseid.
From what I’ve googled, the Anti-Life Equation grants Darkseid the total control of the minds of sentient beings, convincing them that life, hope, and freedom are pointless. This is what I believe the glitchy moments of the story are–the moments when Darkseid takes control.
These glitches happen pretty consistently throughout the series, oftentimes in moments that might surprise you. Go back and look for the glitches yourself. They happen during intimate moments with Barda in the bedroom; they even happen occasionally once Scott is a parent and dealing with his children. I guess Darkseid really does want to spend time with grandkids maybe. But the glitches happen a lot in intense moments, too, like when he’s watching Orien kill Granny or when he’s answering questions on trial. “Darkseid is”… and he’s taking over! Or at least Scott is losing control or hope or whatever the anti-life takes away.
Query: Scott Free is the master of escape, but what is he escaping exactly?
Life? Heaven? Hell? The continuity confines of modern comic books? Darkseid? Lots of folks are interpreting the story as Scott having died at the very beginning after finding he cannot escape death. I’m not sure that’s my interpretation, but it’s not unreasonable. I’m leaning more into escaping depression and hopelessness. But that other stuff works, too.
- The Symbolic Gestures:
Theory: The tape that shows up occasionally is Scott piecing together his memories of certain characters or situations.
While the glitches stood out readily from the get go, the tape took me a read through or two to even notice. Oberon, Granny Goodness, the boy who drew god *who I presume is Jacob* and the scene where Darkseid makes Scott the biblical Abraham and asks for his son–all of these characters and situations have visible tape marks over top of character’s eyes. I feel like it’s King and Gerards’s way of symbolizing how our memories can slip away of those we’ve lost or are important to us. Oftentimes when we think of them, we’re just piecing things together to keep their visage alive. Sometimes our memories or feelings end up being held together with tape or whatever we have to hold it together at that point.
Query: The colors, man, the colors. What do they mean?
Why do Barda’s eyes shift from brown to blue to brown again? Scott points out the change in the first issue, and Barda tells him her eyes have always been brown. Then, they change throughout the series. When she beats up Lightray–brown. When she’s in full costume in front of Orion–blue.
Also, what does it mean when Forager comes to visit and is presented in vivid colors whereas Scott is still muted and bluish gray–except, of course for his bright white bandages? It’s obvious the colors are significant, but I can’t figure out what they mean just yet.
- The Meta-Commentary:
Theory: Tom “King”–if that is your real name, sir–and Mitch Gerards are measuring themselves against Jack Kirby and trying to both honor and comment on his legacy.
“Kid…comics will break your heart.” The Kirby presence permeates this series. Each issue has notes and references that correspond with the original Kirby run on Mr. Miracle. In Kirby’s issue 3, Dr. Bedlam is a disembodied being using a chemical weapon called the Paranoid Pill to induce delusions in humans. In King and Gerard’s issue 3, the “Paranoid Pill” takes a literal form of Scott’s anti-anxiety meds following his suicide attempt. Scott literally measures his own hands against Kirby’s concrete handprints outside of the Chinese Theater at one point–their reach is not as big, btw.
Jack Kirby’s real last name is given to Oberon on his tombstone, and his real first name is given to Scott and Barda’s son. Even the repeated thread about seeing god, and the boy who says I drew him reminds me of the Stan Lee plot pitch for the story that would become The Coming of Galactus–he told Jack the FF “meets god” and left the rest up to Kirby. Kirby knows the face of god; he drew him with a big purple headdress.
Even the Funky Flashman dealings seem like commentary between the relationship between Stan and Jack. Sometimes they’re really terrible and Barda has to bludgeon Funky to save her family. Other times Funky’s letting Jacob come up with all the imaginations and Funky just adds the words. That page was a really touching scene in contrast to the harshness of the Barda one. Rightfully so; that relationship was complicated.
It’s enough to wonder: Is “King” really Tom’s last name, or just a long-play homage to one of the greats? Are we all just enjoying the fourth world (more on that in a bit) left behind thanks to one of the greats? Regardless, there’s plenty of meta-commentary about a certain other “King” of comics by this new kid King.
- The Personal Factor:
Query: How awesome are the female characters in Scott’s life?!?
This is a bit of a cheat here as it’s less a question and more of a proclamation, but every female character in this story seems incredibly strong and resourceful. Aaaaaaaand terrible when necessary.
Scott keeps asking Barda if she had the same experiences with Granny, which Barda didn’t. Granny Goodness, while consistently being terrible and torturous, would also go out of her way to comfort Scott. That Christmas story she would tell about the boy being crushed under the weight of the people he was trying to save–that’s got to mess up a super-hero something fierce. Granny Goodness retains her evil nature, but sprinkles in those doses of compassion and humanity when it comes to Scott Free.
Barda, on the other hand, is such a strong support and protector of Scott, it’s hard not to love that character and their relationship. At one point during negotiations with Kalibak, Scott reminds him that Scott was “granny raised” in a moment where he’s letting Kalibak know he’s not fooling around. Barda was, too, even if she didn’t see as many compassionate moments as Scott. Whether Barda is beating up Lightray or helping Scott face down Darkseid, Barda never has to say it… we know she’s one of the strongest characters around. She’s survived the X-Pits all the same as Scott, but she has an internal strength as a protector and a rock of support that gets Scott through each day. Even when Scott is ready to falter, Barda isn’t. While Scott’s all glitchy and working out his personal issues, Barda is nurturing and compassionate and ready to pick him up off the floor and stay with him when he needs it, and she’s just as ready to knock Scott down and demand he stand when that’s what he needs as well. Barda might not realize it as at one point she gets down on herself for staying, but what she might not see is she’s the strength that keeps that relationship going.
Also surrounding Barda, did I mention the furies letting Scott borrow the sword capable of cutting a New God for Barda’s delivery? When he gives it back, they say this is the sword we’ll use to kill you, and I’m sure they meant it. The women in this book don’t fool around.
Theory: Tom King is working through PTSD from his years of military service in the CIA through this series and by embracing the mundane realities of family life.
I do think Scott escapes death–through the fourth world. There’s that page that describes what the four worlds are, the first is what our parents are escaping, the second is what they escape to, the third is the now, and the fourth world is the future that our children encapsulate.
Is that fourth world the thing that gives Scott back the hope that the anti-life equation took away? I think that’s my interpretation–just like how family and the hope for his children could help bring someone with PTSD work through their issues.
Going back to the glitches–the one issue with the fewest glitches is issue 6, where Scott and Barda are making their way through the war and having the conversations about remodeling the apartment. By losing himself in the day-to-days of family life, Scott doesn’t have time to be an agent of Darkseid. If the anti-life equation is the cause of Scott’s issues, then the PTSD of war may be the cause of many challenges for Tom King. It’s only through taking things day by day with the help and support and reliance on their families that keeps both going.
On twitter recently, folks were questioning King’s military service. His wife Coleen asked to be quoted “tell those *censored* to call me and ask what it was like worrying every day that you’d get shot. You served your country. *censored* those *censored*-ers.” (My censoring, btw). If that’s not a bit of Barda coming out to say, “Shut up, Lightray,” I don’t know what is. Couple the support of the real life version of Barda with the responsibilities and pride of being a parent, and you’ve got a recipe (hopefully along with some sound therapy) to help battle depression.
Ask any parent and I’m sure they’ll tell you how thinking of their children keeps them going on those hard days. Just like when Scott sees the flag of Darkseid in the war and collapses, only to pick himself up when he hears his child’s voice–I feel like I’ve been there. Some days we focus on the trivialities to make it to the next day and make the world better for our kids.
Of course, I’ve also been there when your child is screaming or in pain and for just a second you have that wave of dread sweep over you. That moment of personal weakness creeps into your mind. Then you get your $#%+ together and find the strength to tend to your child.
I’m just postulating that those mundane banalities are what keeps Scott going and moving forward and not falling prey to his darker impulses or feelings; he’s got a bigger job: to prep things for the fourth world. Nothing matters more to a parent than making things better for their kids.
I know Mitch Gerards had his first child while working on this book, so these parental feelings had to be close in his mind.
Although I’ve never been involved in a war or military service, I can surmise it’s probably a shock to the system to go back from the front lines to waiting in line at Walmart to buy your groceries and 100-page-giant issues of Batman. In this book, however, it’s the balance of the mundane and the fantastical that makes it so great. There’s the horrors of war juxtaposed with Darkseid eating a carrot for nine panels or Scott picking up party supplies and not having the rewards card. I might have glitched at the rewards card thing, myself.
- The Philosophical Angle:
Query and theory for this last one: If Darkseid is, what is Darkseid?
Is Darkseid the character depicted on that beautiful Nick Derrington cover? Is Darkseid the “dark side” of all of us? Is “Darkseid is,” the mantra that means that bad stuff will happen, things will cause us to lose faith or doubt ourselves?
Philosopher Rene Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am” statement is examined in the text as a justification of existence and God. If “Darkseid is” is the justification for the ways of anti-life: hopelessness, despair, loss of self-worth, etc, then the only counter to “Darkseid Is” is Barda’s, “And so are we.” Only we can summon the philosophical strength to rise above the bad in life and counter it with the things that give us hope: things like faith, like family, like kids and the future and veggie trays. Suck it, anti-life or PTSD or whatever you want to call it, we’ve all got too much other important stuff to do to let you stand in our way. Also, never underestimate the power of a good veggie tray.
So what do you think? Do you see things the way I see things? Do you see sharper definitions with the colors (I was diagnosed as being “color deficient” in elementary school, so it makes sense)?
Am I reading too much into (or misreading) some of the personal connections I’m assuming the authors have with the work?
I’m genuinely curious what you think. Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @chachachad1. I hope you enjoyed diving into Mr. Miracle as much as I did, if not more.
Until next time, I’ll be the guy still trying to figure this stuff out. And enjoying a veggie tray whenever I can.
OooOOOOOooooOoo…what does that mean?oooOOoooh!