There are some BIG characters in the New Gods’ corner of the DC universe. No, not Big as in Mister Miracle’s wife Barda, but, you know, BIG. BIG in concept, BIG in that signature interstellar Jack Kirby look, BIG in hours inevitably spent on a character’s wiki page to catch up on dense character history, etc. What’s most impressive about Tom King and Mitch Gerads‘ Mister Miracle #5 (and their run on the series thus far) is just how small and human King can make these larger-than-life characters feel against the backdrop of being a god.
In a series where superpowered escape artist Scott Free has been put through the ringer — attempted suicide, getting the shit beaten out of him, getting the mental shit beaten out of him, getting the shit beaten out of him AGAIN–Mister Miracle’s latest issue opens up with something a little different: Scott Free is…smiling?
He’s at the Hollywood Walk of Fame with Barda, having the time of his goddamn life; his lips extending their reach, carving into his face a smile his mask can barely contain. Until… that familiar VCR-tracking reality-blur washes over a panel. Is this a “real” reality? Has Scott been hit with the Anti-Life Equation? Who knows. It might not matter because, well, Scott is scheduled for execution tomorrow at the hands of his brother, the newly anointed Highfather Orion.
This issue takes us through Scott Free’s last day alive with Big Barda, all taking place in Los Angeles. It’s…not typically how last days are spent: PR talks with smarmy Stan Lee stand-in Funky Flashman, sitting through the anti-life that is LA traffic, eating a sandwich at Langer’s, strolling through MacArthur Park, and waxing poetic about life after a day at the county fair. It’s all a bit mundane for someone’s final, waning moments. But you know what? It works.
This issue could’ve been tragedy-porn, overwrought with grief, but instead focuses on the powerful, human bond between Barda and Scott. While they are polar opposites (Scott being small, sensitive and effeminate, Barda being the cold, towering, confident protector), their love has survived Apokolips and possibly even more dangerous than that, the honeymoon phase. This is a relationship aged to perfection and King conveys this through their conversations. One page the couple can be found talking about “their song” (the moans of the damned in Apokolips, by the way) and next they’re discussing their dog’s constipated asshole while eating sandwiches. When mourning rears it’s head, King wisely doesn’t allow the couple to dwell on it.
While King’s deft dialogue between the couple pulls us into the inner machinations of their love and lives, Gerads’ art is the star this issue. Delivering these moments in the made-popular-by-Watchmen nine-panel grid, Gerads eschews bombastic splash pages for this slow, methodical pace. While the nine-panel grid is used in previous issues to convey anxiety and confinement, here it’s used to let these final moments between two lovers breath. Small, subtle actions such as a frown transitioning into a smile seem to have more weight to them this way. These are Barda and Scott’s final moments, and we’re experiencing every bittersweet second with them.
Juxtaposed against this melancholic story is the perma-smiling, somehow carefree Scott Free. In every panel he appears, he doesn’t express the same concern his wife clearly has for him. Yeah, he has a black eye, looks like he hasn’t slept in a week, and is about to be executed, but he’s doing just fine. Why should he be concerned? It’s his last day alive and he has love. Finding and holding onto that feeling is a miracle. If you have that, you can escape anything — even death.