by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS! If you haven’t read the issue, proceed at your own risk.
Charlie: I’ve written myself into my screenplay.
Donald: That’s kind of weird, huh?
To call Adaptation “kind of weird” would be putting it mildly — ostensibly about Charlie Kaufman’s attempt to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, the movie is ultimately about itself, but becomes this weird fictionalized version of itself, as Kaufman invents a twin brother to introduce hackneyed thriller elements to the film’s closing acts. It’s much, much weirder than someone simply writing themself into their own screenplay. Heck, the actual script is credited to both Charlie and Donald Kaufman, and both were nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay even though Donald is a fictional character (or, arguably, a manifestation of Charlie’s most commercial writing instincts). But I think Mister Miracle 5 might just top it for meta weirdness, serving as a kind of final word on comics’ own Charlie and Donald Kaufman — Jack Kirby and Funky Flashman.
If you don’t recognize the name Funky Flashman, it’s because he’s one of the deeper cuts from Kirby’s time at DC. But if you do recognize him, you probably already know him as Kirby’s send-up of former Marvel collaborator Stan Lee.
Actually, before we get to Funky, we better pause to remark on the reverence Tom King and Mitch Gerads clearly have for Kirby. Just look at the quiet moment Scot has in this issue connecting with Jack’s handprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Just to be clear, Kirby doesn’t have handprints outside of Grauman’s Theater (but as of July 18, 2017, Stan Lee does), though the signature and quote — “Kid…comics will break your heart,” which Kirby famously said to cartoonist James Romberger — make it clear that this is Kirby we’re talking about. Anyway, the reverence Scott — and by extension, King and Gerads — has for Kirby is absolutely clear. He puts his hands where the great man once did, but his prints can’t fill those of his hero.
And that’s when Funky makes his graceless entrance. And again, in case we might miss the meaning for the fiction, King and Gerads hit us with another unmistakable quote.
I had never heard of Funky Flashman before, but between the phrase “true believers,” his flamboyant dress, and his only partially justifiable presence at Grauman’s Theater, it’s hard to miss the parallels to Stan Lee. I hesitate to make claims about Kirby’s intentions for the character, but he’s used here as he always has: as the hype- and pitch-man for the New Gods. That his slickness kind of ignores the much more profoundly human story of depression and loss going on around him fits the character, but also slyly comments on how Lee differed from Kirby.
And that would normally be enough. An emotionally oblivious Hollywood-type serves a meaningful contrast to Scott and Barda’s last days together, highlighting the utter human-ness of their godly plight, but King and Gerads have cast Funky in a much more important role. He’s not just a dopey PR-man — he stands between Scott and freedom. And so, he needs to die.
It’s hard to know exactly what this means on the meta-level. It’s a bit like when John Ostrander and Kim Yale killed Grant Morrison in Suicide Squad 58 (that is, the Grant Morrison that Grant Morrison had written into the DC Universe in Animal Man 26), only, you know, crossed with Adaptation. My best guess is that this series (or at least this issue) is actually about Jack Kirby escaping the shackles of Marvel, though that reading may not bode well for Scott Free, who in this analogy would be doomed to a frustrating contract at DC and a protracted legal battle for his original art with Marvel, but then again, I’m terrible with metaphors. Which I guess is my way of saying that I don’t have a better assessment of this issue than Donald Kaufman might, though I’m hoping some of our commenters might. For now, though: killing the avatar of the former collaborator of the guy who invented the character you’re working with? That’s kind of weird, huh?
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?