by Michael DeLaney and Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Michael: A “realistic approach” to comic book superheroes is sometimes successful (often with Batman comics). But most of the time, when you bind the mythic origins of superheroes to real world science and logic, you lose something from the original incarnation. However there’s a difference between a realistic approach and a serious approach to superheroes, like Tom King’s exploration of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World in Mister Miracle 7. This isn’t to say that King’s script is grim and humorless, but that he takes all aspects of Scott Free’s otherworldly life at face value, no matter how “silly” or “outrageous” they might sound in the context of the real world.
With that in mind, King places the miraculous life of Scott Free and Big Barda in a real-world scenario we’ve all been involved in at least once: childbirth. Compared to past issues the plot of Mister Miracle 14 is straightforward, focusing solely on Barda’s labor and delivery.
The process of arriving at the hospital and delivering the baby is mythologized as with the juxtaposition of the dramatic captions of an omniscient narrator. Mitch Gerads has committed to his 9-panel-layouts and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t stick with it. It’s used to comedic effect as we empathize with Scott’s agony while he deals with an unforgiving valet.
When they finally get in the hospital Scott checks them in “first name, Big. Last name, Barda.” This is the serious approach I mentioned earlier — King takes the wild and weird imaginings of Kirby and simultaneously respects and pokes fun at them. Likewise: the inclusion of Barda’s “sisters,” the Female Furies. New Genesis and Apokolips are at war, but the Furies can put that aside for the moment so they can celebrate the birth of their sister’s child.
No matter how far away they travel from Apokolips, Mister Miracle and Big Barda can’t ever really escape the lingering shadow of their tortured childhood. The Female Furies are the ultimate iteration of the nightmare in-laws: they are Barda’s protective sisters and they literally want to kill Scott.
Actually it’s because of that bloodthirsty hatred for Scott that the newborn baby survives. When the baby is choking on Barda’s impenetrable umbilical cord, Scott uses Bernadeth’s god-piercing blade to burn it off. King places Barda and Scott in the very human realm of a hospital delivery room but he still uses comic book pseudo science to ultimately bring this child from another world into life. Because of the lack of oxygen the baby was a grey/blue color when he crowns. At first I thought that he was going to be a baby Darkseid of some sort, but what he actually is might be just as bad, if not worse — more on that later.
Tom King has a knack for making his work funny without turning into farce, because the humor is true to the characters’ experience. In addition to the awkward arrival of the Female Furies, Scott and Barda’s back and forth throughout the issue is equally true and amusing. Scott is doing the best he can to be there for Barda while simultaneously not freaking out himself.
Mitch Gerads breaks up the “action” of the page with a panel devoid of dialogue. Whenever these brief silences occur, Scott suggests another potential name for the baby, and they are all pretty great. Another flair of Gerads’ to add flourish to the very ordinary action of the scene is a simple white line indicating movement of some kind. He’s probably used this before, but it is definitely more noticeable in the subdued patience that this issue details.
Mister Miracle 7 might be my favorite issue yet solely for how it zeroes in on the less bombastic, more everyday nature of the story. As it has been with every issue preceding it, Mister Miracle 7 is a great read on its surface level alone. However, if you’ve read any of my previous write-ups on this series, I can’t help but wonder and imagine what’s behind the curtain.
The issue almost went by without any of the “TV static effect” that has been present up to this point. The blurring returns as soon as Barda begins to push, when the baby crowns and when the baby cries. Barda says that the baby — Jacob — is a miracle while Scott says he looks like a lump, which is a red flag for Fourth World history. I’ve been guessing that this whole series has been a dream or fiction that Scott is trapped in and this about confirms it. “The Lump” is another Kirby creation made for the very purpose of trapping Mister Miracle. The trap is set and our hero might be none the wiser!
Drew how do you feel about Mister Miracle 7? Did you think it was nice to have a little breather from the New Genesis/Apokolips war? What about the birth itself? I don’t ever remember seeing a birth so graphic in a mainstream DC book do you? How do you think Scott handles the whole situation? The “Darkseid is” panel returns, just as the baby is pulled out — any significance there?
Drew: Oh, let’s start with that last question. I think the key there lies in what Barda has to say about the origin of the knife earlier in the issue, specifically that it was “forged […] from Darkseid’s own flesh.” In that way, “Darkseid is” isn’t a dark omen (or at least not just a dark omen), but a stroke of literally divine inspiration.
There’s a problem, Darkseid is, and the problem is solved. And my takeaway really is that simplistic: because Darkseid exists, and because of Scott and Barda’s connection to him, their son survives this difficult birth.
And I think that gets at one of the key themes of this series: that we can’t escape our pasts, even those of us who can escape from anything. Heck, even the name of their son — perhaps the defining figure in this new chapter in Scott and Barda’s life — comes from their past on Apokolips. More precisely, Jacob’s Ladder represented their way out of the X-Pit (and to heaven, as Barda puts it). In that way, it’s kind of both about leaving Apokolips behind and carrying it with them forever; that hope of escape doesn’t mean much if they’re not also remembering the despair of the pit. It’s such a brilliant distillation of this series’ themes, all wrapped up in the Kirby mythology, that I can’t help but be in awe of it.
Which makes your Lump theory absolutely heartbreaking, Michael. Now, more than ever, I want Scott and Barda to share their future together, and if not escape their past, at least reconcile with it. But the implication that this is all some kind of illusion created by the lump is hard to ignore. It’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” all over again, only we’ve spent so much time with Scott’s day-to-day life, I’m attached to it in a way that I never was for Superman’s obviously wrong life on Krypton. And I get choked up when Kal tells his son he doesn’t think he’s real. This turning out to be a dream will absolutely destroy me.
So I’m hoping it’s a red herring — that that narration on the last page (ripped, I suspect, word-for-word from the original Mister Miracle 7, released way back in 1972) is meant to be read as tongue in cheek. That is, it’s just a cute nickname Scott came up with for his kid — or heck, even a reference to the actual Lump (who doesn’t look too far off from a newborn baby:
It seems plausible enough that I’m going to stick with that reading until this series breaks my heart.
Like you, Michael, I’m most amused by this issue’s banality. Scott may assert that this birth is objectively a big deal because it’s happening to him and his wife (who are, you know, New Gods), but it comes across with the same authority as any new parent certain that their birth is objectively important. But everyone at the hospital seems to exist to put them in their place. That valet exchange is frustratingly relatable, but I chuckled pretty much every time Barda’s OB came to casually check on her progress, only to leave just as casually. It’s all very routine, even when it seems like the baby’s heart has stopped for a minute.
This is an incredibly harrowing ordeal for both Barda and Scott (both Scott’s standing by helplessly and Barda wiping that tear away absolutely killed me), but the doctor insists “it’s all normal.”
Which, actually, might be the secret theme of this series: that it’s all normal. Having kids, dealing with uncomfortable in-laws, arguing with an unhelpful parking attendant — these are the messy little details that make life what it is, and they’re just about universal. Lest we find that message boring (I did call it “mundane” earlier), I don’t think this series can escape it’s own title — these little moments are universal, sure, but they’re still miracles. Okay, I can tell I’m getting too mushy, but I really liked this issue, you guys. It’s beautiful and sad and funny and sweet — it’s life, beautifully and thoughtfully rendered by a incredible creative team at the top of their collective games. What could be better?
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?