Culture At Large

The Insufficient Gods of Mister Miracle

Joe George

The first issue of the new Mister Miracle comic-book series begins with a joke: instructed to draw anything he wants, a young boy sketches a picture of God. Upon seeing it, his teacher reprimands him, insisting that no one knows what God looks like. “Yeah,” the boy retorts. “Until now.”

That’s an appropriate way for writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads to start their story. After all, the title character is one of the interdimensional super-beings called “The New Gods,” and thus the series is literally nothing but pictures of gods.

It’s also appropriate because Mister Miracle is, in many ways, a story about faith—how belief drives one’s life. Like most superhero characters, Mister Miracle and the New Gods are defined by fighting, as many of their stories involve good guys from the planet New Genesis battling Darkseid, the fascist ruler of the planet Apokolips. These fantastic elements inform the plot of the new Mister Miracle series, but King and Gerads relegate them to the background, devoting as much page time to Mister Miracle and his superhero wife, Big Barda, watching television or hanging out in Los Angeles, where he has assumed the alter ego of an acrobatic escape artist.

This mix of ordinary and outrageous does not diminish the latter, but rather sublimates super-heroic combat into the characters’ worldviews. They cannot conceive of themselves outside of struggle with their enemy. Conflict is their faith and their life.

Mister Miracle is, in many ways, a story about faith—how belief drives one’s life.

In the comic book, this concept is demonstrated with a recurring image: an all-black panel containing only the words “Darkseid is.” According to the plot, these panels indicate that Miracle has been infected by Darkseid’s super-weapon, the Anti-Life Equation. But on a thematic level, they represent his descent into despair as he grows dissatisfied with his condition. The fourth issues calls back to the joke about the boy’s drawing, now juxtaposing the declaration “I drew God” with the “Darkseid is” panel. The images illustrate our hero’s mentality: Darkseid is, fighting is, and he cannot escape it. War dominates his mind and, accordingly, he succumbs to hopelessness.

To put it another way, war has become Mister Miracle’s god. According to theologian Paul Tillich‘s definition, faith is the “state of being ultimately concerned”–that is, anything that directs one’s practical decisions and thoughts. When we live our lives according to these concerns, Tillich explains, we perform acts of faith. And in our acts of faith, we give witness to our god. By allowing their fight against Darkseid to determine their lives, the characters in Mister Miracle enact faith in war and, thus, reveal it to be their god.

But Mister Miracle infuses the world these gods have created with ennui. Frenetic line work makes even figures in repose feel tense and anxious. The reds, greens, and yellows of Mister Miracle’s costume are blurred so that the usual superhero palette of primary colors seems washed out and bland. Contrasted to other characters’ bombastic speeches (“We were raised on Apokolips. In the pits. In the fire!”), Mister Miracle speaks casually, as when he answers a god’s command with a weary, “Yeah. OK.”

The series’ melancholy tone continues even as Mister Miracle looks for meaning elsewhere, namely his wife and domestic life, things which can themselves become new gods. All of this discontent may seem nihilistic, but there is hope in it. Recall Paul’s lesson to the Athenians in Acts 17. Paul does not condemn the Athenian philosophers for worshiping many gods. He understands their faith, but he also insists that devotion to gods who “live in temples built by human hands” never satisfy. Instead, he directs them toward the God who “made the world and everything in it,” the one they search for in their crude statues. Paul uses their gods to show the true God, the one they’ve been trying to see.

The acts of faith in the first six issues of Mister Miracle show and reject several gods, indicating a longing similar to the one Paul identifies. The story of our hero’s escape from insufficient gods can be read as a spiritual journey, then, one that moves beyond lesser gods and potentially toward the greater God, who is worthy of ultimate concern.

Topics: Culture At Large