Last weekend, the 12-issue limited comic Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads was nominated for an Eisner Award (aka comics’ version of the Oscars) for Best Limited Series; King and Gerads also received individual nods for their writing and art, respectively, and the series received an additional nod for a cover by artist Nick Derington.
None of this is at all surprising. The duo of King and Gerads picked up wins for the series last year too, and the quality of the book only improved, all the way up to the final panel. It ranks right up there with King’s other recent high-profile, self-contained series, The Vision and The Sheriff of Babylon. It’s the story of Scott Free, an escape artist originally created by the ’70s-era pen of Jack Kirby. Reinvented for our current anxiety-ridden age, he is an anxious, quiet, modern White Guy With Problems. He just also happens to be a god who was tortured as a child on the DC Comics planet of Apokolips. He’s married to another god named Big Barda, who was raised under similarly hellish circumstances. They’re fighting a war back home while also living here on Earth and dealing with their laughably small L.A. apartment, bad traffic, and, most notably, the fallout from Scott’s suicide attempt in the first issue’s opening panels.
It’s a moment that informs and haunts every nine-paneled page of every issue that follows, centering the book around a central mystery: did Scott’s most ambitious escape—an escape from the pain of his life—succeed? Or did he actually kill himself, leaving us with an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge-style narrative of what’s flashing through his mind at the moment of death? Or by opening Death’s door, did he also open up an alternate timeline that his life must now follow? Is he infected by the Anti-Life Equation?
There are visual cues throughout the comic, right up to the end, that suggest it’s all either a hallucination, a glitch in whatever reality we’re being presented, or some kind of broadcast or test. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter on a narrative level; it’s truly a metaphor for depression and trauma. Can Scott be convinced to stop trying to escape his own life’s joys and sorrows? How can anyone, Scott and Barda included, go on living when in a universe full of genocide, war, and so much darkness? Who wouldn’t want to break free of it all?
But I come today to suggest that as a dad—a card-carrying, joke-making, yelling-to-knock-that-racket-off-in-there Dad of two—that I have a very simple theory to explain what’s happening, or at least eliminate some of the possibilities that King acknowledges he has left open to interpretation via the story’s ambiguous conclusion.
As a reader and as a dad (have I mentioned we have a club for Dads? We meet once a month at Red Lobster and always ask for extra cheesy biscuits), I was profoundly impacted by Mister Miracle. The themes of bringing life into a world you have serious misgivings about resonated, as did the detailed documenting of what the post-birth period is like—its stretches of incredible tedium butting up against otherworldly happiness. The moments of awkward waiting and family drama at the hospital during childbirth, the struggle to get reliable childcare, using a stroller to cleverly smuggle goods you might need into a place they’re not allowed—King knows of which he writes here.
These are not the concerns of or the details known to a person who’s never had a baby.
And to me, a Dad (we don’t carry cards, but we have matching bowling shirts), it’s clear that the only way Scott Free would truly know these things—the reality of what it feels like, and looks like, and smells like, and how it preys on the mind—would be to experience those moments for himself. They are not the constructs the mind of a non-dad could conjure up in his last gasps of life. They are not the kinds of Dadtails (a term we coined that means “details concerning Dads!”) that an invasive computer program could come up with on the fly. Darkseid Is a lot of things, but he’s not an expert on newborn crib safety and onesie sizes.
My Dad Theory™ is simply this: Scott Free wouldn’t, can’t, and will never know Dadness in his bones like that unless he has experienced fatherhood for himself, entering the Brotherhood of Dads Who Are Not Necessarily Brothers (we all have Xbox Live accounts). Scott Free, therefore, is alive throughout Mister Miracle. Something weird is certainly going on; Scott Free is not right a lot of the time, and he’s got a lot to deal with. He’s talking to dead people. His panels sometimes look like they’re inside a microwave oven that’s about to catch fire. Maybe there’s a glitch in his brain or in the world around him.
But the one thing Scott Free doesn’t have to deal with is the question of whether he’s already dead.
We may be Dads, but we’re still alive, dammit. Picking kids up from Robotics Club. Telling bad jokes on Twitter. Losing money at fantasy football.
Scott Free, alive and well, is one of us. A Dad.
And yes, we do call this living.