Mister Miracle #12 is the final issue of Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles’ story of Scott, Barda, and Jolly Jake. A war has been fought, revelations have been made, and veggie trays have been served. Will the Mister Miracle team’s finale leave you calling for an encore?
It’s difficult to discuss this issue without spoiling what’s going on throughout it and this is one of the strengths of Tom King’s script. At the end of the previous issue, a grand revelation is made and the action of this concluding chapter proceeds with the repercussions of that revelation almost nonchalantly. Where one would expect reckoning and grandiose reaction, the choice Scott Free makes as a result of that revelation is made with the same casual frankness as his conversation with the party supplies clerk in issue #10 (???). Though I felt King’s handling of Scott’s earlier deliberation over the fate of his son betrayed the issue’s emotional stakes, the matter of fact-ness with which this final choice is made actually feels more grounded and less typical than an expected leaning into melodrama.
As I said, it’s hard to discuss the particulars of the issue without spoiling it, but even when those particulars are discussed, it’s hard to ascertain exactly what really happened when all is said and done anyway. I appreciate the use of ambiguity in this issue regarding the mechanisms through which what has happened occurred, because it feels like ambiguity that genuinely wants the reader to make their own decisions about the particulars rather than a writer who can’t decide on what to say and therefore puts the onus on the reader to create meaning in a work that holds none. When it comes down to it, the actual plot of the ending is a lot less important than theme, mood, and character and the ambiguity aids in conveying that.
The plot details aren’t as important, so what does the character work offer instead? Here is where I’m less sure. Scott’s story is ultimately one of deciding what kind of life he wants, whether he will meet his parents’–or rather, father’s–expectations, and if he’s willing to sacrifice his own wants and needs. This is the story of many a straight, white, male protagonist of fiction operating in the mode of “prestige” and I don’t know if this finale offers a new enough twist on that story to leave me satisfied.
Barda’s story is ultimately one of listening to Scott, reacting to Scott’s choices, and occasionally throwing a punch or speaking loudly to show that she’s a “strong female character.” This is the story of many a supporting female lead in fiction prestige or otherwise and this finale offers essentially nothing to leave me satisfied with Barda’s role in the series. If the particulars of the plot are interpreted a certain way, King’s Barda has even less agency and is even more reliant on Scott to exist in the story, which is even more damming. That being said, King has proven himself a master of quiet dramas that leave much unsaid and allow the craft of the medium to convey what the unsaid words would. His understated brand of humor shines here as well and as with most prestige media, even if I have qualms with the particulars of a story, I can’t help but enjoy the prestige-y lens through which that story is being told.
There is nothing at all ambiguous about the excellence Mitch Gerads brings to this finale; a showcase of expression and detail that’s been on display in every issue since the series began. This is a quiet issue and all those close-ups on faces leave me staring at the careful line work trying to figure out how a few lines placed here or there can result in what is both clearly an illustration yet convey as much nuanced expression as a photograph. The first page of the issue not only features a host of cameos to identify, but through those cameos allows Gerads to show just how skilled an illustrator he is when it comes to rendering expressive human faces.
His colors and effect work continue to shine, especially in an issue that features Apokolips’ color distortion, the glare of Los Angeles on a windshield, and cracking flames threatening to burn Scott Free alive. Along with the subtle manipulations of the nine-panel grid and what panels can connect to each other, this finale ultimately shows all the ways I’m going to miss Mitch Gerads’ fantastic work on the series–at least until I pick up an issue of whatever he puts out next.
Clayton Cowles’s doesn’t fall behind Gerads in delivering continued excellence through the conclusion when it comes to his lettering work. From word balloons colored just different enough here or shaped just strangely enough there to the Kirby-esque intro and outro sequences, Cowles never delivers less than his best. From now on, whenever a Boom Tube is used in a comic, it will feel odd to me if the “BOOM” sound effect isn’t in Cowles’s angular letters.
Overall, this was a finale that left me with mixed feelings, but one that is presented so well that the good far outweighs the bad. With regards to the story of Scott and Barda told throughout the series, I can say that I’m satisfied in the end even if I don’t love every storytelling choice King made. When it comes to the artwork, the overall mood, and the way in which the characters’ emotions are conveyed, the performance King, Gerads, and Cowles have conducted in this finale–and the series as a whole–is a success. This issue left me wanting to go back and read the series again all the way through and perhaps then I can better decide if it’s a series worth a standing ovation, but I have no qualms saying it’s one that has earned applause.