With the close of their acclaimed Mister Miracle run, writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads offer a provocative question in comic-book form: what role should sacrifice play in the practice of religion?
For those who haven’t been following the recent 12-issue run of the DC Comics title, some basics: Mister Miracle, aka Scott Free, is one of the New Gods created by Jack Kirby in the 1970s—new because they arose after the deaths of the Old Gods at Ragnarok. The New Gods live either on New Genesis, a heaven-like paradise ruled by the Highfather, or on Apokalips, a hell ruled by Darkseid. Scott Free is the son of the Highfather. To achieve peace, the Highfather gave his infant son to Darkseid, and Scott was raised on Apokalips before escaping with his love, Big Barda, to Earth, where he adopts the alter ego of an acrobatic performer. Kirby used biblical mythology to shape his New Gods; as King observed, Scott Free is “Jesus as an escape artist.”
This new incarnation of Mister Miracle is a dense, layered story worthy of its own annotated edition. In the first six issues, Scott Free was infected by Darkseid's ultimate weapon—the anti-life equation. Scott’s existential despair manifested both as a suicide attempt in the opening of issue 1 and in a single, all-black panel that appeared randomly in the pages. On the panel is a simple statement: "Darkseid is."
The sixth issue ends with a life-changing reveal (spoilers ahead): Scott’s wife, Big Barda, is pregnant, even as Scott becomes, by virtue of attrition, the Highfather of New Genesis. And so the question comes to Scott even as it came to his father: will he sacrifice his son to achieve peace?
There is a way of being religious that enshrines sacrifice as the highest, noblest good. This religion grew up in an unpredictable world, one in which we were at the mercy of the weather, when our own mortality was harder to avoid. We imagined that the world must be controlled by forces angry at us. How else to explain so much death? How else to live with the reality that Darkseid is? So we killed and burned to appease those forces. We appointed leaders who offered us assurances that if we killed and burned enough, we would have peace with these gods. But how could we truly know? (We couldn’t.) And so when disaster struck, or when ennui set in, the only explanation was that we hadn’t sacrificed enough.
This is why the Bible’s prohibition against child sacrifice, especially amidst the sacrificial system that was part of the life of Israel, was so revolutionary. To hold sacrifice as the ultimate aim of religion misses the heart of God’s desire for us, which is why it is something the prophets and the New Testament both repeatedly critique. See Isaiah 1, Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 9, and especially Hebrews 10. True religion, James reminds us, is not sacrifice, but care for the most vulnerable. True religion is a rejection of sacrifice.
There is a way of being religious that enshrines sacrifice as the highest, noblest good.
Scott, now Highfather of New Genesis in the later issues of Mister Miracle, receives an impossible offer from Darkseid: give up his only son and Darkseid will withdraw all forces and surrender even the anti-life equation. Scott knows what he should do: the same thing his father did, surrender his only son. But neither he nor Barda can do it. She rages that they have never escaped the trauma of Apokalips, citing Scott's suicide attempt as evidence. She insists that no matter what, she will not pass that trauma on to her son. Scott agrees, and they hatch a plot to kill Darkseid. Against all odds, it works. Darkseid is destroyed and their son is safe.
The final issue of Mister Miracle raises more questions than it answers, however. Is Scott hallucinating his life as a New God? Is the whole DC Comics universe a creation of Scott's imagination? Did Scott die on that first page of issue 1, and all of this has been wishful thinking? Various specters from Scott's life—his father, his adopted brother Orion, Granny Goodness, Darkseid himself—appear to offer their thoughts, all of them awash in the series' signature glitchy style, which indicates the wrongness that dwells in Scott Free. Is he trapped in Hell, helpless to escape? Did he make it to Heaven only to turn back? Who is to be believed?
Scott Free, the escape artist Christ, imitates Jesus himself: he refuses to participate in the endless cycle of sacrifice. He refuses to perpetuate a system that demands blood and thereby keeps circulating anti-life. Jesus became the final sacrifice, putting an end once and for all to religion that demands life in exchange for peace.
The end of Mister Miracle is less The End than an ending. Darkseid is defeated. Scott rules New Genesis as the new Highfather while Barda leads armies in endless war. Their son is a year old, and they’ve found their new routine. Scott and Barda collapse onto their couch, exhausted as only young parents can be. Scott reaches for the remote, only to remember that their son stuck it in the dishwasher, and it’s ruined. He confesses to Barda that he forgot to get a new one, to which she sighs, "Darkseid is."
Scott replies, "Yeah, I know. But … we are too."
Anti-life cannot be escaped. The wages of sin is death. We can only affirm that where sin increases, grace increases all the more. Here, lying on his couch next to his wife, Scott Free has found freedom. Scott and Barda named their son Jacob, after “Jacob’s Ladder,” the route by which they escaped from the torture pits of Apokalips. Jacob’s ladder in the Bible was a ladder to heaven—not one Jacob used to escape, but one by which God entered into the world. Jesus described himself, on the cross, as that ladder. His death put to death once and for all sacrificial religion. His death is the means by which grace enters our world.
In choosing not to sacrifice his son, Scott has found the ladder by which he has climbed from the pit of despair. Life is found in the creation of life. He has escaped by not escaping, but rather embracing the reality that, while Darkseid is, Darkseid doesn't have the final word. Scott Free is, too.
Topics: Culture At Large