by Jim Dandeneau
What’s the first birthday you remember? And what do you remember about it? You were probably 5 or 6, surrounded by people, running, screaming, everybody grabbing a fistful of cake as they ran past the table. It was gross in hindsight, even before we became culturally acclimated to religious handwashing and masking, but it was loud and fun and full.
Try putting that shit together for your 3 year old in the middle of a pandemic. “Full” isn’t on the menu.
Mister Miracle #10 hits me different now. And not just because I was a mystified, overwhelmed new parent of a 4 month old baby when it first dropped. I could see myself in some of Scott Free the first time I read it, but nowhere near the full kaleidoscope of damage that Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles put on the page.
Mister Miracle #10 is where the plot of their series begins to wrap up. The war between Apokalips and New Genesis is on hold while the two sides negotiate an end to hostilities. Darkseid has the upper hand and will slaughter millions, but he offers Scott (who is now Highfather of New Genesis, following the deaths of the original Highfather, and later Orion) a deal to end the war. He will withdraw all his troops and give up the Anti-Life Equation in exchange for the same deal that ended the original war: Scott and Barda must give Darkseid their only son, Jake, to raise as his heir. This issue is mostly Scott figuring out what to do with that offer.
My first time through with this issue, my first kid was four months old and we were blissfully unaware of the future’s potential for mass, collective anguish. All the normal kid rituals were being followed – nobody was sleeping yet, we were hitting parks and playdates and baby yoga and trying (unsuccessfully, and not very hard sometimes) not to let her watch any screens. So I was still very focused on the comic book side, the Stan and Jack subplot, the conflicting DC realities, the fourth world easter eggs and grandiose intro and outro narration. Rereading it now, it’s like a different book.
I didn’t notice how much of the story was about Scott and Barda’s childhood. Even before the series pivots around Barda’s pregnancy and Jack’s birth, there was so much about growing up on Apokalips and in the X Pit that only registered as superhero set dressing the first time I read it. Now, I see trauma in Scott that I didn’t see before.
I don’t know how much of that is because so much of what I see in the comic now reflects how my wife and I are navigating raising kids who’ve spent more than half their lives in a mass casualty situation. For the last two years, we’ve carved out so much from our family’s life that until COVID hit was a rock-solid given of childhoods. But our first child is old enough to remember The Before Times, to say “I miss going to [that restaurant],” or start talking about how much she loooooooves the trampolines as we drive past the gymnastics gym we used to go to. She’s not old enough to know why we pull into Dunkin down the street from the gym every time she starts. Thank god.
It’s the same trauma that leaks out onto cashiers at Party City or supermarket bakers. Scott overshares on them because he’s too full, and he can’t put it on Barda. She’s just as wrapped up in it as he is, but she’s also with him all the time. He can’t put his problems on her because they’re already hers. So he puts them on random strangers. Maybe they’ll let it roll away.
It’s bizarre to come back to this book now and realize all of this. To look at Scott and Barda wrestling with the same garbage deal the first Highfather faced when New Genesis and Apokalips were at war, and see reflected in Scott’s eyes the same low-grade anguish we’ve been wrestling with for more than half of my oldest’s life.
But that’s where we are now: every time we make a call on what constitutes a violation of her friends’ pod, every two weeks of isolation on either side of a family visit, every close contact ping from our preschool, every time her mother and I get frazzled trying to schedule people to visit the new baby or figure out if one of us can make it in and out of a family memorial service without a heightened risk, we’re trying to figure out how much trauma, how much danger to let through to our kids.
And every time she sighs and says “I can’t wait to go to gymnastics when COVID’s over,” we realize how imperfect our efforts have been. Scott and Barda’s world was a vast ocean of shit, so unceasing that all of the death and tragedy melted into the background, with mundane normalcy like veggie trays or a kid’s birthday party occupying the foreground. And I missed all of that on my first reading.
Mister Miracle #10 is so much quieter and heartbreaking now than it was when I first read it. It’s so narrowly focused on Scott Free’s interiority to the exclusion of all the superhero ornamentation that a New Gods book comes with. It’s still stunning to me that a prestige superhero book had the stones to tease a reality-bending, continuity-shredding cape mystery, resolve it with Jack Kirby telling the reader, “however you see it is the way it happened, as long as you’re having fun, kid,” and actually pull it off. But to me, now, after almost two years of this shit that we’ve all been going through, the story that resonates most to me is the one about trying desperately to protect your kids from trauma. And that makes me really sad.
Mister Miracle #10
Written by Tom King
Art and colours by Mitch Gerads
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Jim Dandeneau has been writing about comics and nerd culture for 15 years, most recently for Den of Geek and as the co-host of Open World Chat, a podcast about all things nerd. When he’s not talking about Legends of Tomorrow or hatchet orders for extremely complicated superhero comics, he spends most of his time being mildly belligerent and vaguely nonsensical on Twitter here!
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As a dad of a month-old baby boy and his two sisters, your write-up of these issues hits way harder than I anticipated. I really want to read this series but I’m a bit more afraid to now.